On this day in history : 25th July 1909 – Frenchman Louis Bleriot becomes the first to successfully fly across the English Channel – worrying the British, who fear they could now be vulnerable to an air attack….

Louis Bleriot – Public domain

Bleriot was an aviator, engineer and inventor…. It was he who invented the first practical car headlamps and he was to become a successful businessman enabling him to devote money and time to his love of experimental flying…. Following a series of experiments with towed gliders he built a succession of powered aircraft…. It was in his Bleriot XI, a mono plane with a 25 horsepower engine, that he crossed the English Channel from Calais to Dover….in a journey that took him just 32 minutes…. It also won him £1,000 in a prize given by the Daily Mail….

Starting the engine, 25th July 1909 – Public domain

He had taken off at sunrise, on the first clear day for several, as high winds had been raging for the past week or so…. He flew across the Channel without the aid of a compass, following three boats who appeared to be heading for port…. On arriving he landed near to Dover Castle – a heavy landing that shattered a blade of the propellor and damaged the under carriage…. The aircraft was never to fly again; however, it was repaired and put on display in Selfridges before being taken back to France to go on show outside the offices of French newspaper ‘Le Matin’…. It then permanently went on display at the Musee de Arts et Metiers in Paris….

Shortly after arrival at Dover – Public domain

Just hours after his historic flight Bleriot travelled to London and was greeted by crowds of cheering Londoners…. On returning to France 100,000 of his own countrymen were there to welcome him….

As a result of his achievement Bleriot was able to sell his Bleriot XI model to the French army – and to several other countries…. The aircraft first saw combat action during the Italio-Turkish war….

Bleriot XI (1909) – Public domain

Following Bleriot’s flight Britain realised just how accessible it had become…. The Daily Mail said “Great Britain is no longer an island”…. Another flight pioneer of the time commented “Britain must seek another form of defence besides ships”…. The Channel crossing inspired Claude Grahame-White to become involved in powered flight…. He was to go on to found the London Aerodrome – which would later become RAF Hendon….

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