Skip to content

By David Rooney on

Louis Blériot Crossed The Channel A Century Ago

Flying over to mainland Europe this summer on holiday? Last Saturday (25 July 2009) was the centenary of Louis Blériot’s historic flight across the Channel – the first ever successful flight across a major body of water in a heavier-than-air craft.

It took a little over half-an-hour, and it won the French aviator the Daily Mail’s coveted prize of £1000 (about £60,000 in today’s money) for doing so, beating rivals Charles de Lambert and Hubert Latham.

Here’s Blériot posing for photographers on 30 June 1909, three weeks before the successful flight:

The Mail reported the achievement under the headline, ‘England is no longer an island’. At the time, the headline alluded to impending military threat. Now, with hindsight, we can see the start of a century ending with cheap package holidays, one-pound flights and a new era of internationalism.

We must also now ask questions about the sustainability of aviation as it is currently fuelled and as it is currently expanding worldwide. Is it time we came back down to Earth a little bit? Here’s Adam Becker at the CO3 blog talking about a possible long-haul levy.

We’ve got a fair bit of Blériot-related stuff on display. All the permanent galleries are free so if you’re passing the Science Museum you can pop in to see the actual objects in context. It’s in the Flight gallery on the third floor. The photos below are a mix of ones I took in the gallery (they’ll be the bad ones) together with some I found in our historic files and some already available on our website.

A scale model of the Blériot flyer (one of dozens of finely-detailed and exquisite model aircraft on display):

Model of Bleriot's monoplane in the Science Museum's Flight gallery

A section of fuselage and cockpit from a Blériot plane that was first to cross the Irish Sea, in April 1912:

Control mechanism of Bleriot monoplane, c 1909

An Anzani engine of exactly the same type that powered Blériot’s plane a century ago (if you’re into aircraft power plants you really have to visit this gallery):

Anzani aero engine

An Antoinette monoplane of the same type Hubert Latham was trying to cross in:

Detail of Antoinette aeroplane in the Flight Gallery at the Science Museum

And a full-sized copy of the Blériot aircraft, made by JAP-Harding – an example of industrial espionage, it seems, as Harding probably brought (possibly stolen) drawings of Blériot’s successful plane back from Paris.

JAP-Harding monoplane in Science Museum flight gallery c1930s

I should have introduced myself. I’m David Rooney, the Science Museum’s transport curator. More transport stories to come…