We previously covered how the English Channel-crossing Blériot XI is now the world’s oldest airworthy aircraft. The plane first flew in January 1909 before flying from Calais to Dover in July that year. Yet, there were numerous experiments and variants of the type, including an American-made Cross Country model.
Across the pond
The Cross Country edition was produced following the achievements of the smaller channel crossing variant. It was built by Hempstead, Long Island’s American Aeroplane Supply House. Notably, the long-range copper ventral fuel tank saw it be dubbed a cross-country model.
Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Red Hook, New York, holds the Cross Country Blériot XI, along with the original channel version. The site notes that the last owner and perhaps pilot was James P. McGrath of Westchester County, New York. After a small accident, the plane was parked at his sister’s farm near Boston. However, the barn caught fire in 1963. Firefighters on the scene found newspapers in the crankshaft that date the unit’s storage as November 1915.
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Throughout the decades
The unit was then taken on by the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virgina, in 1964. It was swapped for a new Curtiss Pusher reproduction that Cole Palen built himself.
Powered by a Gnome rotary engine offering 70 hp, the Bleriot XI Cross Country could reach a top speed of 47 mph (75 km/hr). When it came to its build, it had a gross weight of 661 lbs (300 kg) and a wingspan of 25 ft 7 in (7.8 m).
Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome shares the following about the aircraft:
“It is original except for six pieces of wood spliced into the fuselage longerons and new fabric. The airplane has a 1911 French electric tachometer and even the original seat cushion. The long-range belly tank has not been used for flying at Old Rhinebeck. It was restored during the winter of 1975-1976 and, in 1976, was flown for approximately ten minutes over three test flights to a height of approximately 500’ at Hammondsport, NY. The length of the Aerodrome runway limited flights to lower altitudes and shorter duration. It was grounded in the 1980s by a damaged component in its rare engine.”
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Leaving a legacy
Overall, France’s Louis Blériot was a driving force in aviation during one of its most influential periods. Along with his history-making flight across the English Channel, he spurred the first powered and piloted monoplane. Additionally, the risk-taker introduced the idea of a single stick to manage both roll and pitch, with a foot-operated pedal for the rudder, as can be seen on the Blériot VIII.
The aviator inspired waves of pilots, engineers, and entrepreneurs and helped the global industry develop. The Cross Country Blériot XI is a prime example of the creativity that was in abundance during the early 20th century.
What are your thoughts about the Bleriot XI Cross Country? What do you make of the overall history of the plane? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and this period of aviation in the comment section.