On April 16, 1912, an American aviatrix Harriet Quimby flew across the English Channel in a Blériot XI monoplane. She departed Dover at 5:30 a.m. and crossed a fog-shrouded channel to land at Hardelot-Plage, Pas-de-Calais, 1 hour, 9 minutes later. Her only instruments were a hand-held compass and a watch.

Quimby was the first woman to fly across the channel, but that was not her only “first”: On 11 August 1911, she had become the first American woman to be licensed as a pilot. She was known for her purple satin flying suit.

Harriet Quimby was killed at Quincy, Massachusetts, July 1, 1912, when her Blériot XI, circling the airfield at 1,500 feet (457 meters) suddenly pitched down and she and her passenger were thrown out.


Harriet Quimby and her Blériot XI. (Photo by the Library of Congress)

The Blériot XI was a single-seat, single-engine monoplane designed by Raymond Saulnier and it was a development of the earlier Blériot VIII. The airplane was 25 feet (7.620 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 7 inches (7.798 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 10 inches (2.692 meters).

In its original configuration, the airplane was powered by a 35 horsepower (26 kW) 7-cylinder R.E.P. engine (designed by Robert Albert Charles Esnault-Pelterie) driving a four-bladed paddle type propeller. This engine was unreliable and was soon changed for an air-cooled Alessandro Anzani & Co., three-cylinder “fan”-type radial engine (or W-3) and a highly-efficient Chauvière Intégrale two-bladed propeller.

The Blériot XI had an empty weight of 507 pounds (230 kilograms). Maximum speed was 47 miles per hour (76 kilometers per hour) and the service ceiling was (3,280 feet) 1,000 meters.

Previous History Hour installments: 

Text Author: Bryan R. Swopes