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Pilot recreates historic flight

A FRENCH pilot has recreated the first-ever flight across the English Channel in a monoplane like the one that Louis Bleriot flew in 1909, complete with a wooden propeller, bicycle wheels and an engine about as powerful as a lawnmower.

Edmond Salis took off from Bleriot Beach, near Calais on France's northern coast, at 9:13am on Saturday, arriving 40 minutes later in Dover. That's just slightly longer than it took Bleriot, who made his historic crossing on July 25, 1909 in 38 minutes.

"The takeoff was a bit delicate because there were crosswinds at Bleriot Beach," said Salis, decked out in a leather aviator jacket and hat and a flowing white scarf, in an interview on I-Tele television. "Once I was in the air, I could already see the English coast. Listen, the closer the English coast came, the more I enjoyed it."

Before the flight, Salis dismissed any fears about flying the wooden and canvas craft, which dates from 1934.

"It's still an adventure. It is an old engine, it is an old motor, but it is well maintained, it works well, so there is no reason that any problem would happen," the 39-year-old said.

On Saturday, about 500 people - some in period costumes - were on hand in Calais to see Salis off, and five journalist-filled helicopters tracked his progress.

Salis' flight was one of several events - including flights by other Bleriot aircraft, daredevil stunts, a gala dinner and fireworks - marking Saturday's 100th anniversary of the Calais-Dover flight, which helped usher in commercial aviation.

Bleriot made his flight six years after the Wright brothers flew overland over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and during a decade in which pioneers in Europe and North America were developing the rudiments of airplane technology and expanding its limits.

Bleriot dismissed chiding and criticism - even from his mother, who declared him crazy - and poured a decade of his life and his entire fortune into his dream.

The monoplane, made famous by the Channel crossing, was commercialized with more than 800 copies made, and put into action in World War I by several air forces.


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