The Blériot XI – can you imagine flying one of these crates?


It must be fairly obvious that this blog admires the pioneering spirit and is currently following the adventures of Jessica Watson in her round the world voyage on Pink Lady.

It’s the Edmund Hillary principle and surely this is what keeps the human race going and gives meaning to our existence, apart from appreciating our Maker.  However, both of these people were/are living in a world with inbuilt safety and support systems although to be fair, those systems don’t help in big seas or atop Everest.

Latest on Jessica [Saturday 24th]

The 16-year-old from Buderim continued to make slow progress yesterday towards the northern tip of New Zealand before she turns north towards Fiji.  Today is Jessica’s seventh since setting off from Middle Harbour in Sydney.

At last report she was 25 nautical miles south-east of Lord Howe Island.

“She hasn’t had too much wind in the last day or so, only seven knots,” project manager Bruce Arms said.  “There’s only been a day or so of good winds so far.”

Jessica’s management team, 5 Oceans Media, said the young sailor’s website,, had been receiving more than 400,000 hits per day, while comments on her blog, which has been filed on most days this week, reached almost 900 on Monday and 1280 on Tuesday.

A yacht tracker feature, where followers can pinpoint where Jessica is at any time, will be added to the site soon.

“The website has taken a pounding,” Jessica’s spokesman Andrew Fraser said yesterday.  “When we told Jess of the level of interest in her blog and the website hits, she could not believe it.  She was amazed and again wanted to thank everyone for all the positive messages of support.”

Blériot XI

I’ve been looking at the tech specs of this crate and it’s amazing it even flew.  Notable was one line in the Wiki article on it:

The aircraft’s original configuration included a R.E.P. engine spinning a four blade metal paddle type propeller which proved to be unsatisfactory.

Unsatisfactory, as in stopped working?  As in, with one engine only, it went down?

The wings were little different to current day kites, ultralites and hang gliders, except that the material was more degradable then.  What a risk they took.  They used wing warping for “aileron” control and let’s explain this:

In practice, since most wing warping designs involved flexing of structural members they were difficult to control and liable to cause structural failure. Ailerons had begun to replace wing warping as the most common means of achieving lateral control as early as 1911, especially in biplane designs.

Monoplane wings of the period were much more flexible, and proved more amenable to wing warping – but even for monoplane designs, ailerons became the norm after 1915.

This is exactly what  many yacht sail plans use – let the sail flap out of shape or over-haul it in and it stalls, sometimes a desirable feature.

There was no vertical stabilizer, something which also plagues WIGs today.  How did he overcome the problem?

Unintentionally, Blériot added lateral stability to the plane by leaving the aft section of the fuselage uncovered. This created enough drag to add stability to the aircraft’s flight characteristics.

With no compass, he just let the plane fly in the general direction and then:

Blériot eventually saw the grey line of the English coast. Approaching closer and closer he spotted a French reporter waving the French flag marking the landing spot. Blériot made a very rough “pancake” landing during which the landing gear collapsed, but he walked away, winning the £1000 prize awarded by the Daily Mail.

Isn’t that beautiful?

Philosophy of venture

When I was 12, I was determined to sail my 8 foot Sabot from one town to another on the coast.  As my parents couldn’t dissuade me, as I would have hung around moping and after they’d sought advice from the local expert sailor who had a Flying Dutchman, they let me go but first they bought a very powerful pair of binoculars.

My mother told me later she was glued to those binoculars virtually the whole time.  Me, in my little golden varnished wood and yellow sailed pram?  It was a breeze the whole way – light winds and kind seas.

If you google Jessica Watson, all you get for two pages is how she crashed into a ship and why she shouldn’t have been allowed to go.  Actually, I agree she’s a bit too young to face all the sudden emergencies which can occur on a voyage like that but the fact is – she’s out there now and it’s not as if she hadn’t rehearsed.

As for her crash into the ship some time back, I think it’s better she did it then than now.  Forewarned, from experience, is forearmed.  Also, 16 is vastly different to 12.  At 12, we were in a gale on a lake and it was terrifying.  I just let the sheet [rope] go, the boat rounded up by itself, I hunkered down at the stern and shut it all out.

Later, at 16, on my Moth, a similar thing happened in a similar place.  I turned it head to wind, jumped off and held it head to wind when the gale came through, got back on and sailed to shore.

Search and rescue

There was that situation with the balloon hoax last week and so they should be charged for the emergency services.  In Jessica Watson’s case though, she has her own team, at her parents’ great expense and a lot of others who’d probably go out and help at a pinch.  No one sane really does these things unsupported.

Adventure?  If you’re prepared and willing to accept the consequences, why not?

2 comments for “The Blériot XI – can you imagine flying one of these crates?

  1. October 25, 2009 at 13:10

    It doesn’t look any riskier than a hang-glider or similar. There again, I’m scared of heights so I wouldn’t want to go in one of those either. And I don’t actually like flying.

    • October 25, 2009 at 18:20

      I don’t much like it either.

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