The Bleriot XI


After Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first authenticated controlled powered flight at Kil!devil Hills, Kittyhawk, there was a flurry of would be aeronautical engineers all over the world attempting to emulate the Wright Brother's success.

One of these aeroplane builders was Louis Bleriot. He built a number of aeroplanes with limited success. In December 1908, he displayed his three latest machines, his ninth, tenth and eleventh:


model IX

a tractort monoplane


model X

a pusher biplane


model XI

another tractor monoplane


The machines IX and X never flew but the model XI was a success. The first flight by this aircraft was on 23rd January at Issy in France. For this flight the machine was powered by a 30 hp (22 kW) REP engine. The engine was replaced by an Antoinette H' engine and later by a more reliable-three cylinder 22/25 hp (16.5/18.5 kW) Anzani engine driving a two bladed propeller. It was in this aircraft that Bleriot made the first crossing by aeroplane of the English Channel on 25th July 1909. One month later on the 28th August, Bleriot, again in the same aircraft but this time with a 60 hp (45 kW) ENV engine achieved a world speed record for powered flight of 77 kilometres per hour.

Jan Olieslaegers on 10th July 1910 at Reims set an endurance record of 5 hours, 3 minutes and 5 seconds. Albert Leblanc on 29th October 1910 lifted the world speed record to 109 km/h at Belmont Park USA. Jan Olieslaegers, this time at Kiewitt in Denmark on 161h July 1911 set an overland distance record of 635 kilometres. At one time in 1910, Bleriot XI aircraft held every world title in speed, altitude, duration and distance

Another record which can never be broken was achieved on 23rd October 1911 near Benghazi during the Italian/Turkish war. Captain Carlo Piazzi of the Italian Army took off in a Bleriot XI to fly a reconnaissance mission over the enemy lines. Captain Piazzi took four bombs on this flight and dropped them on enemy installations. This was the first act of warfare by an aircraft.

The fame of this record breaking machine was such that orders came flooding in. Bleriot set up a factory to build the aircraft and by 1914 almost 900 machines had been completed and sold (this does not include the many copies). At the outbreak of war in 1914 there were 132 Bleriot XI aircraft in.service with the British, French. Italian, Austrian and Russian armies.

Not a bad achievement for Louis Bleriot who started off manufacturing acetylene headlamps. He was the most successful aircraft constructor in the period before the First World War (1914-1918).

Crossing the Channel

The English Channel was Britain's security wail, the moat around the castle. Back in 1588 Britain had seen off the Spanish Armada. In 1802 Napoleon from France gazed across at the White Cliffs of Dover and with the British Channel fleet in view gave up thoughts of invasion.

In 1785 Jean-Pierre Francois Blanchard and Dr. John Jeffries made the first airborne flight across the Channel by balloon. By 1908 there had been no less than 36 crossings of the Channel by balloon but these were considered novelties. Britain was still secure behind this ocean wall. Another novelty crossing was by Samuel Cody, an American living in England. He was the adviser to the British Army on aeronautical matters. In 1903 Cody crossed the Channel in a canoe towed by a kite!

The 37th crossing by Louis Bleriot at 4 40am on 25th July 1909 changed things. Flights longer than the 23 miles had been made before this date but this flight was over water. No chance of landing in a field if the engine failed. The barrier between Europe and England had been conquered by a machine not dependant on the direction of the wind. The moat around the castle of England could now be crossed with impunity

The Aircraft

Back in 1909 control of an aircraft was by several levers and wheels. Turning, climbing diving and banking each had their own separate control. Bleriot introduced a completely new system in the model XI. There was one central level which controlled climbing, diving and banking. To dive push the lever forwards, to climb pull the lever back, to bank push the lever to the left or right. The only other control was a bar on the floor with two foot pedals which controlled the rudder for turning. This method was quickly adopted by all aircraft manufacturers and still used today.

The installation of more powerful engines caused several crashes due to structural failure of the wings through causes which were not then fully understood. Flying wires were strengthened and the location of the two wing spars adjusted. This problem was not unique to the Bleriot but was encountered by most monoplane aircraft designs of the period.

On the I St of September 1913, one of Bleriot's test pilots, Celestin Adolphe F'egoud set out to prove that the "Onze" was a far safer machine than the critics had made out. Taking off he flew to a height of 300 feet (915 metres) and performed a series of aerobatics including an outside half loop and flying upside down. This was the first acrobatic exhibition. On 21st September he performed a loop, not the first person to achieve this feat, this being done by Lt. Petyr Nesterov of the Imperial Russian Air Service in August.

The Later Years

Bleriot was not the only builder of aeroplanes in the very early years of the 20th century. Another manufacturer was Armand Deperdussin who owned a company the Societe Pour les Apariels Deperdussin. Deperdussin was a silk merchant. Setting up an aircraft factory in 1910 he called the company Societe des Productions Armand Deperdussin.

Text Box: 3Deperdussin ran into financial difficulties in 1913. In 1914 Bleriot stepped in and took control of the Deperdussin company. The name was changed in 1915 to Societe Anonym, Pour l'Aviation et ses Derives in each case retaining the initials of the parent company SPAD. During the war from the years 1918 to 1918, SPAD S VII fighters equipped over 50 escadrilles de chasse and several squadrons of the United States Air Service. Captain Eddie Rickenbacker of the 94th Aero Squadron achieved all his successes during the war flying a SPAD VII.

The SPAD company was amalgamated with the Bleriot company in 1921 and continued aircraft manufacture up until 1939. The last aircraft from the company was the Bleriot-SPAD 510, a biplane fighter. In 1937 the Bleriot-SPAD company was nationalised along with the Bloch company, the combined companies became the Societe Nationale de Constructions Aeronautiques du Sud-best or SNCASO,

Louis Bleriot died in August 1936

The Powerhouse Aircraft on Display

A Frenchman, Maurice Guillaux imported a Bleriot XI into Australia on board the Orontes in April 1914 and on 20th April began a series of demonstration flights over Sydney and Melbourne. He flew the first airmail in Australia flying from Melbourne to Sydney departing Melbourne at 9.15am on July 16th 1914 He was carrying 1785 postcards which cost 21- each. There appears to be some controversy whether this was an "Official" air mail flight. One reference states that a contract from the Post Master General was issued to Guillaux to carry letters. The postal service issued a 50 (five penny) stamp in July 1964 to commemorate the 1914 flight. There was another "Official" airmail flight using the same aircraft on 23rd November 1917 between Adelaide and Gawler.

After taking off from Melbourne Showgrounds "he soared gracefully into the air, and, on reaching about 1000 feet, took his bearings' like a carrier pigeon and set his course northward." (from the Melbourne Argus). At 9.55 he was over Seymour and then followed the railway line to Albury where he arrived at 1.50pm. He continued on to Wagga where he landed at 2.50pm. Next stop was Harden at 4.06pm. Rethelling he took off for Goulburn but had to return because of strong headwinds. Rain the next morning prevented him from leaving until 2,00pm. He became airsick due to heavy turbulence and once again had to return to Harden.

Next morning an early start 7.15am for Goulburn. From Goulburn he flew on to Moss Vale but he decided that the approach to the golf course was to difficult and pressed on to Liverpool arriving there at 1.00pm. Finally on to Sydney's Moore Park where he arrived at 2.30pm to a tumultuous welcome. Amongst the welcoming crowd was the Governor General, Sir Reginald Munro Ferguson. Total flying time was 9 hours 35 minutes and the total elapsed time from Melbourne to Sydney 2 days 5 hours 38 minutes.

Guillaux returned to France and joined the Aviation militaire. For a short time he was on loan as in instructor to No. 5 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. He was killed on 21st May 1917 when the aircraft he was test flying crashed at Villacoublay.

In all there were 5 Bleriot Xis imported into Australia, one being on charge in the Australian Hying Corps as a training machine at Point Cook.

The first Bleriot into Australia was machine No. 38 off the production line. It was imported by F. H. Jones. This machine has the honour to make the first powered and controlled flight in Australia. it was flown by Fred Coustance at Bolivar near Adelaide on 17th march 1910. Coustance made three circuits of a large paddock in a flight which lasted 5 minutes and 25 seconds. Prior to this flight, Coustance had no pilot training. On a second flight the same morning after reaching a height of 15 metres, he overcorrected the controls and crashed.

There are several claimants for the first "powered and controlled flight". Colin Defies imported a Wright biplane which he flew on the 9th November 1909 in a flight which lasted just 5 seconds and covered a distance of 100 yards. As he never deviated from a straight line it can be argued that it was a powered flight but nut controlled. The day after Coustance's flight Harry Houdini took of in a Voisin biplane he had imported and made several circuits of the landing field.

Things technical

For the crossing of the Channel in 1909, Bleriot's machine was powered by an Anzani three cylinder semi-radial engine which produced 22/25 hp (16.5/18.5 kW). The machine imported by Gt' tillaux (the Powerhouse machine) was powered by a 50 hp (37.5 kW) Gnome engine. The principle of the rotary engine was developed by Lawrence Hargraves in the 1890s

Text Box: 4Bob Degotardi