Louis Blériot (1872-1936) was a French aviation pioneer as well as an active inventor in other fields. Some time after 1900, Blériot, already a successful entrepreneur, began experimenting with aeroplanes. In 1905 he, with Gabriel Voisin, started the Blériot et Voisin aircraft company; in 1906, he struck out alone under his own name. After making a series of aircraft of indifferent success, he created the Blériot XI, the design for which he remains famous. Probably the first practical aeroplane to have what became the conventional monoplane layout of engine and propeller in front, single wing and cockpit in the middle, and horizontal and vertical tail surfaces at the end of a long fuselage, with taildragger-style landing gear, the Blériot XI was very advanced for its time and became one of the most successful aircraft of the pre-World-War-I era. Blériot himself earned a permanent place in aviation history by piloting one of his XIs across the English Channel on July 25, 1909, winning a 1,000-pound prize offered by London’s Daily Mail newspaper for being first to do so. Blériot built hundreds, and aeronauts and experimenters all over the world built what nowadays would be called clones of his design. The French and British air forces used the XI as observation aircraft in the early World War I years.
The Blériot company lasted until 1913 when Blériot acquired the Deperdussin company and renamed it the Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD). In various incarnations, this company survived until 1926.
A remarkably large number of original Blériot aircraft and contemporary imitiations still exist. A few are even airworthy and are flown briefly once in a while. Numerous replicas also have been built.
Blériot XI N60094
The Blériot XI at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is said to be the oldest flying airplane in the United States and the second oldest in the world. Its flights are limited to short hops above the runway at the Rhinebeck airstrip. The aircraft uses an original 35 hp Anzani engine. Actually only about 25% of this airplane is original (the front and rear thirds of the fuselage); the rest was built in the 1970s.
Blériot XI (Ford Museum)
This original 1909 Blériot XI is displayed at the Henry Ford Museum.
Blériot XI N99923
This original 1911 machine at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome is the more original of their two Blériots, with almost all original wood. It was built in 1911 and flown until 1915, when it was stored in a barn for 50 years before being discovered. Although it has flown since its restoration in the 1970s, it is now a static display.
Bleriot XI, National Air & Space Museum
The National Air & Space Museum Bleriot is one of the late models from just prior to World War II, built in 1914. It was purchased by Swiss display pilot John Domenjoz, who flew stunt shows in it throughout Europe, South America and the United States in 1914, 1915 and 1916. It was last flown on Long Island, New York, in 1919, and remained there in a hangar and later an air museum until 1950. At that point it was purchased by the Smithsonian, which restored it for display in 1979.
Blériot XI replica, Military Aviation Museum
This somewhat awkward looking replica features a wing with a much thicker airfoil than original Blériots, plus an unconvincing engine installation. It is with the Military Aviation Museum.