Louis Bleriot's flight across the English Channel was an amazing feat in the century's first decade. Even the Wright brothers were impressed, since airplanes were still notoriously unreliable. But British newspapers warned, quite presciently, that airplanes flying over the channel could now be used as instruments of war. An excerpt from The Post of July 26, 1909:
Bleriot's own account of his exploit, which will appear in the Daily Mail tomorrow, is graphic. He says: "It is more important to be the first to cross the channel by aeroplane than to have won the prize of 1,000 pounds. I am more than happy that I have crossed the channel. At first I promised my wife that I would not make the attempt. Then I determined that if one failed I would be the first to come, and I am here. ...
"At 4:30 daylight had come. ... A light breeze from the southwest was beginning to blow. The air was clear. Everything was prepared. I was dressed in a khaki jacket lined with wool for warmth over tweed clothes and beneath my engineer's suit of the blue cotton overalls. My close fitting cap was fastened over my head and ears.
"I had neither eaten nor drunk anything. My thoughts were only upon the flight and my determination to accomplish it this morning. At 4:35 the signal is given, and in an instant I am in the air, my engine making 1,200 revolutions, almost its highest speed, in order that I may get quickly over the telegraph wires along the edge of the cliff. As soon as I am over the cliff I reduce my speed. There is now no need to force my engine. I begin my flight steady and sure toward the coast of England. I have no apprehensions, no sensations, pas du tout. . . .
"I am alone. I can see nothing at all. For ten minutes I am lost.
"It is a strange position to be alone, unguided, without a compass, in the air over the middle of the channel. I touch nothing. My hands and feet rest lightly on the levers. I let the aeroplane take its own course. I care not whither it goes. For ten minutes I continue, neither rising nor falling nor turning, and then twenty minutes after I have left the French coast I see the green cliffs of Dover, the castle, and away to the west the spot where I intended to land.
"What can I do? It is evident that the wind has taken me out of my course. I am almost west of Margarets Bay, and I am going in the direction of the Goodwin Sands. Now it is time to attend to steering. I press a lever with my foot and turn easily toward the west, reversing the direction in which I am traveling. Now, indeed, I am in difficulties, for the wind here by the cliffs is much stronger and my speed is reduced as I fight against it, yet my beautiful aeroplane responds. ...
"Once more I turn my aeroplane, and describing a half circle I enter the opening and find myself again over dry land. Avoiding the red buildings on my right, I attempt a landing, but the wind catches me and whirls me around two or three times. At once I stop my motor and instantly my machine falls straight upon the land from a height of 65 feet. In two or three seconds I am safe upon your shores. Soldiers in khaki run up, and a police man and two of my compatriots are on the spot. They kiss my cheek. The conclusion of my flight overwhelms me. I have nothing to say, but accept the congratulations.
"Thus ended my flight across the channel. The flight could easily be done again. Should I do it? I think not. I have promised my wife that after a race for which I have entered I will fly no more."