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EAA's Bleriot XI Makes First Flight

Bleriot flight
Pilot Tom Hegy gets EAA's Bleriot XI reproduction airplane off the ground for a short hop at Pioneer Airport Sunday, June 5.

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June 6, 2011 — EAA’s reproduction of a 1909 Type XI Bleriot aircraft got about 8-10 feet off the ground Sunday evening – flying for six or eight seconds over the turf runway at EAA’s Pioneer Airport in Oshkosh. Tom Hegy, EAA 6849, was pilot-in-command of the oil-spitting, 1909 Anzani-powered airplane and flew a short hop to cap a test flight program that began with some runs Saturday and earlier Sunday morning. Volunteers who have worked on the project over the past five years can gain a sense of satisfaction that their efforts resulted in an actual flying aircraft.

“When it gets off the ground, there’s not a lot of control,” Hegy said. “I had a lot of respect before for the Wrights, Curtiss, Bleriot – the early pioneers – but I have a lot more respect for them now.”

On July 25, 1909 - almost 18 years before Lindbergh’s solo flight from New York to Paris -Louis Bleriot made the world’s first successful powered flight across the English Channel to win £1,000 from the London Daily Mail. EAA’s project also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the first air mail flight by Earle Ovington’s famous Queen’s Bleriot, on September 23, 1911.

AirVenture attendees can see the airplane in a special Air Mail Centennial exhibit this year, along with demo engine runs throughout the week.

Test period begins
The weather conditions were right last Saturday to begin runs, so the aircraft was towed out of the Pioneer Flying Services hangar with the test crew of Hegy, EAA’s Sean Elliott, and Robert Erdos, EAA 157826, test pilot, acting as EAA Flight Advisor for the project, preparing for the first runs. Hegy is a crop duster pilot who normally flies an Air Tractor turbine-powered airplane over the fields of central Wisconsin. Erdos is chief test pilot for Flight Research Laboratory in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and an EAA Flight Advisor who wrote the flight test program for the Bleriot XI.

 The first run at about 8 p.m. Saturday lasted about 15 seconds, Elliott said, with the 1909 Anzini engine run up to full power. Two more runs done before sunset were longer and provided directional heading adjustments to see how the aircraft responded to control inputs and its overall controllability.

The next morning Team Bleriot was up with the sun making additional runs until the winds picked up. Elliott noted the Saturday and Sunday morning flights were done on Pioneer Runway 13, which is uphill. Sunday morning did see a breakthrough, however, as the tail came up for the first time. “The only way this airplane would get airborne is if the tail was way up in the air,” Elliott observed.

Finally, flight!
Back again at 6:30 p.m., they resumed runs but now on Runway 31, which is downhill, but into a breeze described by Hegy as about 20 or 30 degrees from the left. With advice from the folks out at Old Rhinebeck, New York, as well as continuous coaching and feedback from Erdos, Hegy felt fairly confident in his ability to get the aircraft off the ground.

The Anzini’s constant spraying of lubricating castor oil presented a problem, he said. “My glasses were all full of it. I had to find a free hand to wipe them off. I cannot imagine Bleriot flying over the English Channel for what had to be a 45-minute flight with oil all over him.” Hegy later fashioned a scarf around his face to mitigate some of the oil spray but it was unavoidable.

Elliott added, “There are no crisp responses to the controls, and more of a significant time lag after control input. Plus the aircraft is exceptionally underpowered. That Anzani engine had not pulled an aircraft in more than 100 years.”

Erdos seconded the Bleriot’s ultra-low power-to-weight ratio. “It is hideously underpowered,” he said. “A Cub has about 18 pounds per horsepower; the (28-hp) Bleriot is about 30 or 31 pounds per horsepower. It has low-negative directional stability. You really need to keep the tail behind you,” made even more difficult because there’s no fuselage but an open truss structure.

Unique bird
The Bleriot utilizes wing warping, not ailerons, but they do not have much effect at all, Erdos said.

“If upset by a giant gust, depending on your angle of attack, it become real counter-intuitive,” he added. Erdos said he consulted with the people at the Shuttleworth Collection in the UK who recently completed a Bleriot restoration and found EAA’s specs similar.

In designing his flight plan, Erdos said safety was, as always, paramount. “At the outset we brainstormed everything that could go wrong and devised ways to mitigate against them,” he said. “I acted as an EAA Flight Advisor, and passed along all the information I could.”

Although he had his difficulties with the airplane – the right wing’s brush with the turf on the second flight attempt put an end to flying Sunday - Hegy was fairly impressed with the new reproduction of the ancient flying machine.

“It’s not at all like a regular aircraft. But it was the best they had back then. And it makes you appreciate how fast airplanes advanced after that.”

Read the story about the Bleriot from the July 2009 Sport Aviation.

Watch Building a Bleriot webinar.

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