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191 Bleriot XI

Louis Blèriot designed and built the original Blèriot Type XI, which was the first heavier-than-air craft to be flown across the English Channel. The monoplane was tested for the U.S. Army at College Park in 1912 by Bernetta Miller.

Although the U.S. military ended up not purchasing the Bleriot, the early monoplane was out of College Park Airfield by early civilian company The National Aeroplane Company.

Specs

Year: 1912 (reproduction)

Capacity: One pilot

Empty weight: 720 pounds

Wingspan: a range, from 24 feet, 11 inches to 32 feet, 5 inches

Maximum speed: 47 mph

Engine: 25-30 horsepower Anzani

Propellers: 2-bladed wooden propeller

One of the earliest monoplanes

As one of the earliest and possibly the most successful of its type, Louis Bleriot's Bleriot XI monoplane became a bestseller plane and an important validation of the potential of aircraft and aviation to unite the world and become a military weapon. 

Louis Blèriot designed and built the original Blèriot Type XI, which was the first heavier-than-air craft to be flown across the English Channel. Blèriot flew the 25 miles from Calais, France to Dover, England on July 25, 1909 and won The Daily Mail prize of £1,000. The sensational feat launched Bleriot--and his monoplane--to instant fame. The day after Blériot flew across the Channel, a British newspaper wrote: “England’s isolation has ended once and for all.

The Bleriot XI was also flown by female aviator Harriet Quimby, who was the first woman in the United States to earn a pilot’s license in 1911. In a parallel to Louis Bleriot’s record, she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel solo in 1912. Later that year Quimby was killed when her new Bleriot flipped and she and her passenger were ejected. 

 

After conquering the English Channel, the Blériot XI became one of the most popular airplanes in the world. He was flooded with orders for his plane, and, built and sold on license, his Bleriot XI designs became a bestseller in Europe and America: When blueprints were published in 1912, the Blèriot also became one of the most copied aeroplane designs. Manufacturers could purchase licenses to build and sell their own, which many did. Many of the leading aviators of the day flew Blériot aircraft--between 1909 and 1912, nearly every European aviation contest saw a Blériot XI among the winners. On the cusp of World War I, European and Asian government’s were impressed with Bleriot’s creation and purchased some for their budding air units in their militaries, equipped for warfare. Military versions were bought by France, Britain, Italy, Austria, Russia, Sweden, Japan, and more. Used in the Italo-Turkish War in 1911-1912, it would become the world's first warplane--the first plane used for reconnaissance and the first plane used to drop bombs.

Unlike the Wright B and the Curtiss Jenny, the Blèriot is a monoplane (one set of wings) configuration. By showing the viability of his one wing design, Blèriot encouraged other builders to follow in his footsteps. Today’s airplanes share the same basic design as Blèriot’s creation. 

The design was a single-seat, single-engine setup that used wing-warping for lateral control (roll). It had a partially covered box fuselage, with a small all-moving rudder mounted slightly above a horizontal tail, whose tips functioned like elevators. The engine was set directly in front of the wing, attached to a front propeller. Two front wheels and a smaller tailwheel could slide up and down the steel tube sprung on elastic cords to help with shock absorption upon landing.   

When the National Aeroplane Company established operations at College Park Airport, it became the authorized agent for the manufacture and sale of Blèriot aircraft in the Washington, DC region. 

Bleriots were the type of plane used by the Moisant School at Mineola (Long Island, NY) one of America's earliest flying schools. In an effort to sell Blèriots to the U.S. Army, the Moisant Company sent Bernetta Miller to showcase the aeroplane’s capabilities to officials at the field. The Army was not convinced of the monoplane’s safety, and it opted not to purchase any Blèriots.  

Bernetta Miller was the fifth woman in the United States to earn her pilot’s license on September 16, 1912. She trained at the Moisant School in New York, who chose her to demonstrate the Moisant-Bleriot monoplane to the U.S. Army at College Park a few weeks later on October 7, 1912.  

“Of course,” she said later, “I had no illusions as to why I was sent to College Park to demonstrate the monoplane to the U.S. government officials who were exclusively devoted to the idea of the biplane… [It was] on the basis of the idea that if a mere woman could learn to fly one, so surely could a man." 

Despite her successful flights, the Army was not convinced of the monoplane’s safety, and it opted not to purchase any Blèriots. Fighting against social pressure discouraging women from flying and suffering from financial difficulties, Miller gave up aviation in 1913.  

Our Bleriot XI: A reproduction

Completed in 2002, this reproduction Blèriot XI monoplane was built in the College Park Aviation Museum’s own restoration shop. It was crafted by volunteers under the direction of restoration shop manager John Liebl, from the 1912 drawings originally published by John Rozendaal. 

More visitor information

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Plan your visit

Open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-4pm

Closed Mondays and holidays

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About the museum

College Park Airport is the world's oldest continuously-operating airport, open since 1909. 

The College Park Aviation Museum preserves and shares the exciting history of the airport, this "Field of Firsts."

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Tours and Groups

The museum offers guided tours for schools and groups of 10 or more.

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