Biography of Experimental Pilot Louis Bleriot Part 1

About the famous French inventor and experimental pilot Louis Bleriot, history and biography of the man who survived over 50 plane crashes.


LOUIS BLERIOT (1872-1936)

Always appearing in public in drab, conventional business suits and sporting an enormous mustache which almost hid his perpetual frowns and nervous smiles, Louis Bleriot seemed to be anything but the daring experimental aviator he was. By 1909, after surviving 50 airplane crashes, the soft-spoken, meek-looking Bleriot had won the reputation of being the most accident-prone pilot who had ever flown. However, at the end of that year, after becoming the first person to fly an airplane across the English Channel, Bleriot made a triumphant entrance into London, where jubilant crowds cheered the arrival of this little French hero.

Born in Cambrai, France, on July 1, 1872, Bleriot was a quiet, well-behaved child of provincial, middle-class parents. An introverted small boy who secretly dreamed of adventure, he spent a totally uneventful youth in the French countryside. Demonstrating inventive and mechanical abilities, he attended L'Ecole des Arts et Manufactures, from which he graduated with a degree in engineering, while spending his free time on inventions of his own. One of these inventions was the automobile headlamp, which he patented and manufactured.

His patent royalties and business profits from the headlamp made Bleriot a wealthy young man. As a respected member of the Paris business community, he married a well-to-do stocky young woman named Alice Vedere and began fathering his six children. Although he was a confirmed family man and led a conservative life, Bleriot still harbored his childhood dreams of adventure. At the Paris Exhibition of 1900, an aircraft with flapping, batlike wings captivated his attention, despite the fact that the contraption had never flown. In his spare time, Bleriot began building aircraft with engines that powered flapping wings. These ornithopters became an obsession with him, even though he blew up three engines, vigorously flapped one machine until it fell apart, and never succeeded in getting one off the ground. As time passed, he spent more and more time and money on his aeronautic experiments.

Forgetting about his business affairs and diverting all his energies to inventing flying machines, Bleriot turned from ornithopters to airplanes. For years he designed, constructed, and crashed airplane after airplane. His lack of success did not discourage him; instead, it always spurred him on to try again. Finally, in 1907, having spent six years and $150,000, Bleriot built a monoplane which he managed to fly and land without crashing. Greatly encouraged by this victory, he rapidly designed and constructed several new models. However, he was still plagued by crack-ups. In November, 1908, flying cross-country in his Bleriot X airplane, he entered a fog bank and piled into an oak tree.

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