Louis Blériot Memorial
Nr Dover Castle
Kent CT16 1HU
In a wooded clearing, a few hundred yards from the Dover Castle coach park is the exact spot where Frenchman, Louis Blériot landed his tiny plane after making the first channel crossing on 25 July 1909. The crossing had taken a hair-raising 37 minutes.
The spot is marked by the silhouette of his plane laid out on the ground in 4 inch (10 cm) thick granite 2 x 1 feet (0.61 x 0.31 metre) blocks set into the turf. It is a graphic reminder of just how small the plane was and what an epic feat had been achieved.
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In 1909 this spot was an open field and Blériot was looking for somewhere he could land his faltering machine. He had taken off from Les Barraques airfield in France and was supposed to follow a French destroyer which was showing him the way. The weather deteriorated and Blériot lost sight of the ship. He had no compass and for ten minutes he was completely lost with nothing but water below him.
When he did sight land the wind had blown him off course and he was over St Margaret’s Bay. The only thing stopping the small aeroplane engine from overheating and malfunctioning was the rain!
He described his predicament in these words: “Suddenly, at the edge of an opening that appeared in the cliff, I saw a man desperately waving a tricolor flag, out alone in the middle of a field, bawling 'Bravo! Bravo!' I didn't point myself, rather I flung myself toward the ground. At the risk of smashing everything, I cut the ignition at 20 metres. Now it was up to chance. The landing gear took it rather badly, the propeller was damaged, but my word, so what? I had crossed the Channel”
Blériot was a successful automobile headlamp inventor who established a flourishing acetylene headlamp business,. He amassed a small fortune, became interested in aviation and taught himself to fly. He decided to make an attempt to cross the Channel in a monoplane which he designed himself, the Blériot XI.
To appreciate this remarkable feat it must be remembered that flying in the early 1900s was an extremely risky business. Aircraft engines were small, unreliable, and generally prone to overheating rapidly and most engines of this period could run for only about 20 minutes before they began malfunctioning. The aeroplanes themselves were also unreliable.
Pilots frequently stayed over land or close to the shoreline to avoid open stretches of water, allowing them to head for a roadway or field in an emergency. The London Daily Mail newspaper offered a £1000 prize to the first aviator to cross the Channel in either direction. Blériot’s successful crossing caused a sensation.
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