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On 25 July 1909 Louis Blériot, a determined and courageous Frenchman, became the first person to cross the English Channel in an aeroplane and in so doing won a place in history.
In the wake of the Channel flight the Blériot XI enjoyed great popularity, and it was built in both single and two-seat versions in large numbers in France, Britain and a number of other countries. Development of the aircraft followed, and although its basic form remained the same, it was fitted with progressively more powerful engines and underwent numerous other modifications.
The Type XI was a versatile machine and it served as a training aircraft at flying schools the world over while at the same time setting records for speed, distance, altitude and endurance and even being used for aerobatics. The aircraft was also used operationally during the Italo-Turkish War (1911-12) and in the First and Second Balkan Wars (1912-13). When World War One broke out in 1914 it was flown by several of the combatant air forces. The Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service used the Blériot XI in the reconnaissance rôle in 1914-15, but the aircraft's short range, limited load carrying capacity and absence of defensive armament saw it relegated to training duties.
The Blériot XI on display is broadly representative of the type and differs principally from the Channel aircraft in having a more powerful six-cylinder Anzani engine.
What makes this a milestone aircraft?
The Blériot XI was not the only monoplane in a contemporary aviation world populated by increasing numbers of biplanes, but one of the first dependable, reliable and versatile examples of this design; at a time when many of its contemporaries were dangerous, difficult to control and unstable.