Blériot’s dream becomes reality
One of aviation’s first major challenges was to fly non-stop across the English Channel. This feat was first achieved by Frenchman Louis Blériot on 25 July 1909.
Blériot, who had been a successful inventor and manufacturer of car headlamps, was fascinated with aeronautics and used the money he made from his automobile business to design and build aircraft. By 1909, Blériot Aéronautique had developed the Model XI, a tractor-configuration monoplane, which was light and powerful enough for Blériot to attempt the Channel crossing.
Blériot was competing with another noted French aviator, Hubert Latham, for not only the prestige of the first non-stop Channel crossing by air, but for a £1,000 cash prize put up by the London Daily Mail newspaper.
At about 4am on the 25 July, Blériot filled the tank of the Model XI’s 3-cylinder, 25-horsepower, air-cooled Anzani engine with fuel donated by Shell for his record-breaking attempt. He was up early to make his bid, as Latham, like Blériot, was camped out on the beachfront near Calais seeking to make history. In fact, Latham in his Antoinette monoplane had already attempted the crossing on 19 July, but engine failure had forced him to ditch in the sea.
At 4.41am, waved off by a large crowd, Blériot took to the air and headed towards England. Despite turbulence and poor visibility, the Model XI’s reliability and Blériot’s determination paid off, for nearly 30 minutes later Dover Castle came into view.
After circling twice, Blériot landed, breaking the undercarriage in the process but coming to a rest at 5.12am. He had covered the 24-mile distance at a speed of 40mph and an altitude of 250ft in 36 minutes and 30 seconds.
Blériot’s achievement not only sealed his place in aviation history, it kicked off a new aviation enterprise as orders for the record-breaking Model XI began to pour in.
Supplying fuel for Blériot’s historic flight was just one example of Shell’s early commitment to supporting the pioneers of aviation, as these pilots risked their lives to push boundaries and lay the foundations for the modern aviation industry. Over the following years Shell supplied fuel and support for a number of record-breaking trips, including the first non-stop transatlantic flight, the first flight to Australia and numerous speed, endurance and altitude records.
Since the days of those early pioneers, aviation has developed into a truly global business, connecting communities and driving economic growth, progress and prosperity across the world. Today Shell’s commitment to aviation remains as strong as ever, as it works with partners to develop and supply sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Made from renewable and waste sources, SAF has the potential to cut emissions by up to 80%1 and help the industry answer perhaps its greatest challenge yet – how to achieve carbon neutral flight.