Biography of Experimental Pilot Louis Bleriot Part 3

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

INTO THE WILD BLUE YONDER--NOTED AVIATORS

LOUIS BLERIOT (1872-1936)

Arriving at Les Barraques, Bleriot ordered his mechanics to ready the plane for flight. Worried that the wind would start gusting again, he hastily yelled instructions and waved directions with his crutches. After the plane was fueled and tested, he was helped into the cockpit while his crutches were lashed to the fuselage. Gazing out over the Channel, he nonchalantly asked a newspaper reporter, "Where is Dover?" The reporter pointed in the general direction of England, which satisfied Bleriot, who waved good-bye to his wife and took off at 4:41 A.M., just as the sun came over the horizon. When Latham and Lambert discovered Bleriot was on his way, they rushed to their planes, but the wind was blowing once more, making it impossible for them to get airborne.

Meanwhile, Bleriot was cruising over the Channel at 45 mph. However, 10 minutes after takeoff, his air-cooled engine began to overheat. Halfway across the Channel the engine started to knock and falter. Fortunately, Bleriot flew into a storm cloud, and cold rain cooled the plane's engine. Not able to see the French or the English coasts and without instruments, Bleriot thought he was lost, when suddenly he saw to the north the white chalk cliffs of Dover, partially hidden by fog. Steering towards Dover Castle, he spotted the meadow which a friend had prepared for his landing. As the friend waved a French flag, Bleriot managed to land safely, even though his landing gear collapsed and his propeller snapped off. Staggering out of the cockpit, he untied his crutches and proceeded to a nearby inn for breakfast. While eating his meal, the winner of the race across the Channel was interrogated by three English customs officers who wanted to know if he was carrying contraband or infectious diseases.

As soon as he collected his pond 1,000 in London, Bleriot returned to France and quickly won $15,000 more in prize money. However, after he broke several ribs in a crash in Istanbul and was severely burned in a crack-up at Reims, he concluded that he had had enough adventure for one lifetime and quit flying. Opening a flying school and an airplane factory, he became a prosperous businessman again. During W.W. I, he developed the Spad fighter plane, used by French and American pilots. An extremely rich man, Bleriot lived quietly with his wife and family until he died at home in bed at the age of 64.

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