A French pilot on Saturday recreated the first-ever flight across the English Channel in a monoplane like the one that Louis Bleriot flew in 1909, complete with a wooden propeller, bicycle wheels and an engine about as powerful as a lawnmower.
Edmond Salis took off from Bleriot Beach, near Calais on
France's northern coast, at 9:13 am local time (0713 GMT), arriving
40 minutes later in Dover. That's just slightly longer than it took
Bleriot, who made his historic crossing July 25, 1909, in 38
"The takeoff was a bit delicate because there were crosswinds
at Bleriot Beach," said Salis, decked out in a leather aviator
jacket and hat and a flowing white scarf, in an interview on I-Tele
television. "Once I was in the air, I could already see the
English coast. Listen, the closer the English coast came, the more
I enjoyed it."
Before the flight, Salis dismissed any fears about flying the wooden and canvas craft, which dates from 1934.
"It's still an adventure. It is an old engine, it is an old motor, but it is well maintained, it works well, so there is no reason that any problem would happen," the 39-year-old said.
On Saturday, about 500 people - some in period costumes - were
on hand in Calais to see Salis off, and five journalist-filled
helicopters tracked his progress.
Salis' flight was one of several events - including flights by
other Bleriot aircraft, daredevil stunts, a gala dinner and
fireworks - marking Saturday's 100th anniversary of the
Calais-Dover flight, which helped usher in commercial aviation.
Bleriot made his flight six years after the Wright brothers flew
overland over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and during a decade in
which pioneers in Europe and North America were developing the
rudiments of airplane technology and expanding its limits.
Bleriot dismissed chiding and criticism - even from his mother,
who declared him crazy - and poured a decade of his life and his
entire fortune into his dream.
With just a handful of friends and helpers, he towed his craft
into the start position on a field near Calais on the night of July
25, 1909. It had a 25-horsepower motor and was baptized Bleriot XI.
The wooden propeller roared.
At 4:41 a.m., the 23-foot-long (7-meter) craft took off. Just 38
minutes later, Bleriot's dream became a reality: He landed in a
field near Dover on the English coast, becoming the first person to
fly across the English Channel.
The touchdown was bumpy, and the aircraft was damaged, because
Bleriot had been forced to cut the engine 20 yards (meters) above
the ground. The monoplane, made famous by the Channel crossing, was commercialized with more than 800 copies made, and put into action in World War I by several air forces.
Bleriot was not the sole early aviator. German Otto Lilienthal
flew a few hundred yards (meters) in the 1890s, and the Wright
brothers briefly lifted off with a motor-propelled craft in 1903.
On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to fly
solo over the Atlantic, landing at Le Bourget outside Paris.
Bleriot hugged him on arrival. Lindbergh is said to have remarked
that he would fly back across the Atlantic in his own aircraft,
"But I wouldn't fly over the Channel in a Bleriot XI."
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