Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 6/28/2016):
Design of the Bleriot XI is credited to Louis Bleriot (7/1/1872 - 8/2/1936) and Raymond Saulnier. Saulnier went on to make his own name in the aviation business under the banner of Morane-Saulnier. Bleriot was an engineer by education and credited with the invention of the automobile headlight. Using funds from his successful headlight business venture, he began producing his own working studies of the concept of towed glider flights and began to forge his love of aviation in the process. After a short partnership with Gabriel Voisin (another aircraft engineer whose name preceded some World War 1 fighter design designations all their own), Bleriot took to start his own aviation firm, at first producing the unsuccessful Bleriot V. The Bleriot V became Louis Bleriot's first design to achieve sustained flight.
The VII, complete with its covered-over fuselage, soon followed and proved more in line with front mounted aircraft designs to come. The aircraft was primitive to the core, appearing as something out of a child's imaginary airplane built out of cardboard boxes. The fuselage was a near-perfect rectangular shape while the main wings were low-mounted with noticeable dihedral (upward angle from root to tip). Additional, this design carried a more conventional empennage (tail section) with a single low-fitted vertical tail fin and large area horizontal stabilizers with tailplane elevons. The pilot sat in an open-air cockpit directly behind the engine in the forward fuselage. The engine powered a four-blade paddle-type propeller with broad tapered blades. Power was supplied through a single Antoinette 50-horsepower 8-cylinder water-cooled piston engine. Cruising speed was listed at 50 miles per hour. Bleriot and his VII made a total of six flights before the machine was lost to accident in December of 1907.
The Bleriot IX was an experimental monoplane design fitting an Antoinette engine of 100 horsepower and an off-shoot of the VII but with tandem horizontal tail surfaces. This design succeeded in making a few short "hops" about the ground though never achieving sustained flight. The Bleriot X was another of Louis Bleriot's concept attempts and followed more the design path of the American Wright brothers featuring a "pusher" type propeller/engine arrangement and biplane wings. Construction of this design was never completed. However, the early attempts (and those all-important subsequent failures) proved to secure the foundation needed to produce the first serviceable monoplane in the Beriot XI, achieving first flight on January 23rd, 1909. The system was showcased at the December 1909 Exposition de la Locomotion Aerienne show in Paris.
Louis Bleriot helped to put his creation to the test by completing the first flight across the English Channel. The flight was part of a 1,000 pound prize as put forth through a competition arranged by the London Daily Mail. Matching up against two other would-be winners, Louis Bleriot and his XI took to the skies on July 13th, 1909 and spanned some 36 minutes and 55 seconds, setting the new European endurance record with a distance of 36.6 kilometers from Les Barraques, France to Dover, England. One competitor, Hubert Latham was forced into the sea after developing engine troubles while a test flight for the third entrant, Charles de Lambert, ended in a crash with injuries sustained. Bleriot landed his XI and earn the 1,000 pound prize, though foul weather played a role in the rough landing that caused damage to the propeller and undercarriage. Nevertheless, Bleriot's legacy was sealed as "The Man Who Crossed the Channel" for the rest of history.