One of aviation’s earliest pioneers was Louis Blériot, a French engineer and manufacturer, who in 1909 crossed the English Channel in an aircraft of his own design: the Blériot XI. The event was a sensation, winning Blériot lasting fame in aviation history and leading to the success of his aircraft manufacturing business.
Both Louis Blériot and Raymond Saulnier designed the Blériot XI, a development of Blériot’s previous experiments. The single-engine tractor monoplane was a built from ash wood with wire cross bracing and was designed to use wing warping for lateral control. While initial test flights were disappointing, Blériot improved the aircraft by reducing its weight and replacing the original engine with a 3-cylinder, 25-horsepower, air-cooled Anzani engine built by Alessandro Anzani, a famous motorcycle racer.
The Blériot XI remained in production into the early years of World War I, entering military service in Italy and France as trainers, light bombers and for observation. In civil use, the aircraft was also used in competitions and air races. Louis Blériot even established a flying school, offering free flight training for those who purchased a Blériot aircraft.
Few aircraft from the early 1900s are still airworthy, but there are two Blériot XI’s that have stood the test of time. The last two remaining Blériot XI’s are among the oldest flyable aircraft in the world and may be viewed today at the Shuttleworth Collection in the UK and the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in the U.S. A few vintage aviation experts have even built replicas of the iconic aircraft.