The Bleriot XI monoplane is one of the earliest civil aircraft to have been flown in Australia. Piloted by stunt pilot Maurice Guillaux in 1914, it pioneered commercial aviation in Australia by carrying the first airmail from Melbourne to Sydney.
This Bleriot XI is very similar to the Bleriot XI aircraft that made the first epic flight across the English Channel on 25 July 1909. That aircraft comprised an open box-frame "trellis" fuselage, exposed pilot position and a three-cylinder Anzani engine, which developed only 25 hp. It was flown by its French designer, Louis Bleriot (1872-1936), who had spent the previous four years developing a practical aeroplane and learning to fly it.
After this successful flight, Bleriot capitalised on his fame to become the world's most successful aircraft manufacturer. His firm, Bleriot Aeronautique, built about 800 type XI monoplanes and their derivatives between July 1909 and August 1914 in a factory near Paris. It was the most significant, influential and longest-lived aircraft design of the era. Bleriots dominated the air-racing and exhibition circuit in the years prior to World War I. Virtually all major speed, distance and altitude prizes at flying meets around the world between 1909 and 1911 were won by Bleriot pilots. Type XI aircraft formed the embryonic air forces of the French, British, Italian, Austrian and Russian governments, while flying clubs as far away as Saigon and Sebastopol used Bleriot aircraft. It was the forebear of a series of ever-more-sophisticated racing and military aircraft produced by firms such as Morane-Saulnier, Blackburn, Fokker and Deperdussin.
This Bleriot XI monoplane is thought to be a stunt machine known as a "Looper" which was especially designed for aerial acrobatics. It was fitted with a 50 hp Gnome engine and built at the Bleriot factory early in 1914. It was purchased by a professional stunt pilot, Maurice Guillaux (1883-1917), who had won numerous flying competitions and races. A fraudulent entry during an air race saw him barred from European competitions at the end of 1913, and in April 1914 he arrived in Sydney by ship, with his Bleriot in the hold, for a series of aerobatic displays.
Guillaux demonstrated the first loop-the-loop in Australia in front of 60,000 spectators at Victoria Park Racecourse in Sydney. He went on to claim a place in aviation history by flying the first official Australian airmail and air freight from Melbourne to Sydney. When he landed at Moore Park on 18 July 1914 after a harrowing flight that included seven refuelling stops, he had completed the longest airmail flight in the world. (A regular airmail service between Sydney and Melbourne was not established until 1925.)
After the First World War began in September 1914, Guillaux returned to France. He died while testing an aircraft for the French Airforce in 1917. He had left his Bleriot in Sydney, and it was purchased in 1916 by Ballarat garage proprietor, (Robert) Graham Carey. Carey opened a flying school and used the aircraft for numerous flying demonstrations around Victoria to raise money for the war effort.
Carey also used the Bleriot for the first South Australian airmail service, from Adelaide to Gawler on 23 November 1917. One of Carey's pupils, K.J. Claffey, a farmer from Deniliquin in NSW, purchased the Bleriot in 1920. It was purchased by the Department of Civil Aviation in 1939 for a proposed display at Mascot aerodrome in Sydney; the exhibition did not go ahead, and in 1941 the Bleriot was loaned to the museum. It was later restored for display in the museum's Transport exhibition.
The Bleriot type XI monoplane was largely designed by Louis Bleriot, who was born 1 July 1872 at Cambrai, France. After graduating with a degree in engineering from the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Manufactures, he founded La Societe des Phares Bleriot, a firm specialising in the production of acetylene headlamps and accessories for automobiles.
By 1900 he had become wealthy enough to indulge in experiments in heavier-than-air flight and over the following five years built three ingenious but unsuccessful flapping wing machines. In 1906 he approached Gabriel Voisin, who built him a biplane mounted on floats on the lines of Hargrave's box kite. Unfortunately, while being towed on the Seine by a fast motorboat, the glider got out of control and crashed. For a while Bleriot joined the Voisin brothers in business and built two tandem wing aircraft, but neither was successful. Early in 1907 he returned to building a monoplane, the type IV, in which he crashed on his first flight. Undeterred, he built and crashed three more machines during that year: the Type V, a tandem wing aircraft; the VIII, a tail-first type with 25 horsepower Antoinette engine; and the Type IX with a 50 horsepower Antoinette, in which he began to have some success. Short hops soon gave way to short cross-country flights, and Bleriot began attracting the serious attention of the Aero Club of France. With the type X, Bleriot reverted to the biplane layout but it was so inadequate it was apparently never tested. Although facing financial ruin, Bleriot managed to forge ahead late in 1908 with two new aeroplanes that he called "the last chance monoplanes", the Types XI and XII, frantic to recoup his losses with prize money and aircraft sales.
Young engineers who went to work for the Bleriot firm were free to bring their own designs. Instrumental in the success of the Type XI was Raymond Saulnier, though Louis Bleriot made substantial contributions. The Bleriot XI incorporated many of the elements that had evolved through the earlier models, including: the three-wheel undercarriage with the front wheels mounted on a shock-absorbing bedstead; the pylon supports for the wings; the rectangular "trellis" fuselage, uncovered at the rear; the small rudder and pivoting elevators; and the now-standard Bleriot control arrangement. Bleriot was amongst the first aviators to adopt the logical system of cockpit controls that is now universal, namely: a foot-operated rudder bar for control in yaw; a central lever that tilts forward and back and left and right for control in pitch and roll; and a hand throttle. He was also the first aviator in Europe to make wing warping for lateral control really work, abandoning ailerons, which he had tried on all his previous machines.
It was in this machine, powered by a 25 horsepower semi-radial motorcycle engine, a 3-cylinder Anzani, designed by the Italian ex-bicycle racer Alessandro Anzani, that Bleriot piloted the world's first over-the-ocean flight in a heavier-than-air craft, across the English Channel. Leaving the cliffs at Les Baraques near Calais at sunrise on the morning of 25 July 1909, Bleriot flew the 37 km (23 miles) in thirty six and a half minutes, landing at North Foreland Meadow behind Dover Castle at 5.12 am. The feat won him lasting fame and a prize of 1,000 pounds offered by the London "Daily Mail".
The Bleriot XI was a simple but stable aircraft and apparently quite easy to fly. Bleriot continued to build various types prior to World War I but, except for a few 2-seater and single-seater versions of the type XI that were used for reconnaissance duties during 1914 and early 1915, Bleriot's workshops concentrated on building the designs of other firms. During World War I he was associated with the Deperdussin company, makers of the SPAD fighter, and after the war he played a role in the development of a limited commercial airmail service across the South Atlantic, in flying boats and an Autogiro. Bleriot died of heart disease in Paris, on 2 August 1936.
The Bleriot Type XI proved so popular that only two months after the English Channel flight a total of 101 aircraft were on order. The original factory at Neuilly was scarcely more than a shed and, as demand continued to rise, in 1910 Bleriot purchased an additional building known as the "Old Bowling Place" in Neuilly. Later that year the firm moved to entirely new quarters, a specially constructed factory on the Route de la Revolte in Levallois, near Paris. By late 1911 when the 500th Bleriot aircraft was wheeled through the doors, over 150 engineers and workmen were employed at the Levallois plant.
Three flight instruction schools were also set up by the Bleriot company. A summer school at Etampes, a village on the plains of Beauce, 50 minutes by rail from Paris, while in winter the school transferred to Canbois, 9.5 km (6 miles) from Pau, in the south of France. A third school was established at Hendon, near London, for English-speaking students. Flight instruction was free for those who had purchased Bleriot machines.
With the factory and flying schools operating smoothly, Bleriot was free to resume aeronautical experimentation. In all, between 1909 and 1914 he produced 45 distinct aircraft types, but for the most part, they were produced in very small numbers. Throughout the period the classic Bleriot XI remained the firm's most successful product. It was frequently altered and updated and was marketed in four basic categories, trainers, sport or touring models, military aircraft and racing or exhibition machines. The type XI became the standard Bleriot monoplane and with some modifications continued in service until about 1914. Variations of the aircraft appeared but, despite this, the type number remained the same even though the size, shape and engines of the aircraft were altered. Thus a single-seat parasol, a seaplane version, and an enlarged 2-seater were all referred to as the type XI. The 2-seaters were later known as the Type XI-bis and in England where Bleriot had opened up workshops in 1914, it was known as the Type XI-2. These had either a 50 hp or 80 hp Gnome engine. Later most single-seat versions had the 50 hp Gnome installed.
The Museum's Bleriot was fitted in the Paris factory with the 50 hp Gnome engine. Apparently it was especially modified in the factory for aerobatic displays and was known as a 'Looper' or Boucle in French. These modifications included a slightly longer wingspan and the upper cabane was taller and braced. Other modifications which may have been made in the factory are uncertain as the Museum's aircraft has been rebuilt so many times that items such as engine thrust line and angle of incidence could have changed dramatically.
Two Bleriot XI monoplanes with Anzani engines were shipped to Australia as early as 1910. The first was brought out to Adelaide by a businessman, Fred H. Jones, and flown by Bill Wittber at Bolivar, north of Adelaide, on 13 March 1910; this was arguably the first controlled powered flight in Australia. The other was sent to Melbourne by the Bleriot firm and flown by a French pilot, Gaston Cugnet. It crashed while taking off on its first flight from the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 5 December 1910. There was also a Bleriot at Point Cook Aerodrome, Victoria, early in the First World War.
In 1914 Australia's interest in aviation was prompted by the famous French stunt pilot, Maurice Guillaux, on a promotional tour of Australia together with the Bleriot XI monoplane that is now held by the Powerhouse Museum. Accompanying him was his manager, Le Maistre, and mechanics Cominos, du Coque, and Rupeausseu.
The group arrived in Sydney on 8 April 1914 on board the "Orontes" with the Bleriot packed in a large wooden crate in the hold. On 20 April 1914 Guillaux became the first man to 'loop the loop' in Australia at a demonstration attended by 60,000 people at Victoria Park Racecourse, Sydney, and four days later was given an official welcome by the Lord Mayor of Sydney. The next day he flew to Newcastle, where more aerobatic demonstrations were held. The French party sent the plane by train on to Melbourne in June for more stunt displays, including a landing in the grounds of Government House. Guilluax's manager, M. de Maistre, also arranged for him to deliver Australia's first unofficial airmail letter from the Mayor of Melbourne to the Mayor of Geelong. Above Geelong racecourse he gave demonstrations of "upside down flying" and banking, as well as taking up six passengers (one of them a woman), who presumably either sat on his lap or sat behind the pilot's seat on the fuselage in Guillaux's safety harness.
An accident to the plane of a rival American aviator, Eugene 'Wizard' Stone, which was smashed to pieces on 1 June, gave Guillaux the chance to make the historic first flight between Melbourne and Sydney. Stone and his American promoters had been contracted by the PMG Department (now Australia Post) to make the flight and no replacement aircraft was available. The sponsors, a Mr Wilson of OT Ltd, a soft drink manufacturer and Arthur Rickard, a real estate developer, approached Guillaux's manager to undertake the flight and on Thursday, 16 July 1914, Guillaux left Melbourne with the first 88 kg (40 lb) bag of Australian "aerial mail". This comprised 1785 souvenir postcards produced by the British Imperial Oil Company (later Shell Australia), which also supplied the fuel for the flight, and official letters between the State governors and French consuls. A quantity of Lipton's tea and some OT chilli cordial and lemon squash, consigned to the Commercial Travellers' Association (Tennis) Club of Sydney, became the first air cargo carried between the two cities. The underside of the Bleriot's wings featured the wording "ADD a little O.T."
Guillaux left the Melbourne Agricultural Showground at Flemington at 9.12 am for the 930 km flight. Because the Bleriot's limited fuel capacity meant it could only be in the air for about 2 hours, the flight was arranged in stages with seven refuelling stops. Suitable towns were selected where a racecourse or paddock could be used for the aeroplane to refuel, and each was to be identified to Guillaux by a large bonfire readily visible from the air. Furthermore, since Guillaux did not know his way to Sydney it was decided he should follow the railway line. The first stop was Seymour in Victoria, where after 42 minutes of flying time Guillaux landed in Jordan's paddock. Wangaratta in Victoria was the next stop, and Guillaux landed in J. Sisley's paddock, near Racecourse Road. He arrived at the Albury Racecourse in NSW at 12.50pm and after lunch with the French Mayor, Georges Frere, he continued on towards Wagga Wagga. There Guillaux caused a sensation by landing at the wrong racecourse, touching down near the judge's box just as a race had ended. After finding the right racecourse Guillaux made great progress, travelling at a record 120 mph, on his way to Harden. Strong winds and driving rain began buffeting the flimsy aircraft only minutes after it left Harden. The fabric wings stretched to breaking point and the toiling Gnome engine coughed and spluttered as Guillaux strove to keep the plane's nose to the wind. He was finally forced back to Harden, violently airsick, wet and cold, his face swollen from the scouring rain. Flying conditions on the second day were appalling, and he had to spend a second night at Harden. At 7.45 am on 18 July, Guillaux finally left Harden for Goulburn, again in bad weather, finding his way by the smoke of steam trains on the main line. Ahead of schedule, Guillaux set down near a small town in the bush southwest of Sydney. A local resident, Mr Cloke, told Guillaux it was Liverpool and invited him to stay for lunch, which he did. A strong tail wind brought him in to the landing spot at Moore Park, Sydney, still ahead of schedule. Too early for the official reception with the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson, Guillaux filled in time by flying between Parramatta and Manly before making his final descent in a blinding storm at Moore Park at 2.50 pm. He was carried shoulder high amid cheering crowds. The postal authorities were not too impressed with the flight, however, as it had taken longer than the normal train journey, although flying time was only just over 9 hours 35 minutes. It was the longest airmail flight made in the world at that time.
Guillaux continued to give aerial demonstrations until the Bleriot was badly damaged at Ascot Racecourse (near Mascot) on 3 August 1914 and he spent six weeks in hospital as a result. After war began in Europe, Guillaux returned to France but not before his last aerobatic display at Bathurst, NSW, on 12 September 1914. The Bleriot remained in Australia and was purchased on 24 January 1916 by a garage proprietor and taxi operator, Robert Graham Carey of Ballarat, Victoria. Carey had the Bleriot transported to Ballarat where an English pilot friend, Edwin Prosser, was initially his pilot and mechanic. In February 1916 Carey then established the Ballarat Flying School with Prosser as Chief Instructor and himself as Manager. Carey gained his pilot's certificate, No.34, from the Australian Aero Club and on 23 November 1916 became the first civilian to gain a pilot's licence from the Commonwealth Flying School, later Central Flying School, Point Cook, Victoria, in the Bleriot. He was rejected as a military aviator because of his age of 42 years.
Carey spent much of the second half of 1917 flying the Bleriot at charitable galas and fetes in connection with the Red Cross "in aid of the soldiers". Before each flight over any town Carey had to write to the Intelligence Section of the Department of Defence to seek formal permission. In October 1917 he was asked to give exhibition flights in Adelaide in connection with the CTA Carnival to aid the Army Nurses' Appeal, and sent the Bleriot there by rail. Several displays and exhibition flights were undertaken in Adelaide during October and November 1917 during which time Carey continued to help the war effort by dropping official recruiting mail and "loan" leaflets. The GPO then gave permission for the first airmail to be flown in South Australia by Carey on 23 November 1917 between Adelaide and Gawler.
By October 1917 Carey had gained permission to use the Bleriot in conjunction with his "School of Aviation" at Bacchus Marsh racecourse in Victoria. However, by the end of 1917 it appears Carey was no longer using the Bleriot (apparently due to the lack of spare parts) and it was stored in his motor garage at Ballarat. In 1919 Carey bought four Maurice Farman "Shorthorn" aircraft that had been used at Point Cook since 1917.
In 1920 the Bleriot was purchased by one of Carey's former flying pupils at Port Melbourne, K.J. Claffey, who is said to have installed a bicycle seat behind the pilot's seat for his paying passengers on joy flights. In 1939 the Bleriot was purchased from Claffey by the Department of Civil Aviation for a proposed display at Mascot. The display did not eventuate and the Bleriot was stored in a shed adjacent to the aerodrome until its location was brought to the attention of the Museum in 1941.
The first owner of the Bleriot XI monoplane was the French pilot, Maurice Guillaux, born 24 January 1883 at Montoire-sur-Loire, France. He obtained his French pilot's licence, No.749, in 1912 at the age of 29 and within twelve months had broken all the existing world flying records for speed, duration and distance in a Clement-Bayard monoplane. Flying a Bleriot monoplane, he became better known in France as a daredevil professional stunt pilot looping-the-loop over Paris fifteen times in a row.
In November 1913 Guillaux was suspended from competition flying for 10 years for a "mistake" with his figures for the length of a flight in the Pommery Cup. The purpose for his trip to Australia was to give aerobatic displays and to investigate the possibility of establishing long distance commercial air services. The European ban probably contributed to his decision to travel to Australia.
Guillaux arrived in Australia with the Museum's Bleriot in April 1914 where he gave a number of daredevil stunt displays in Sydney and Melbourne between April and September and flew the first airmail from Melbourne to Sydney. During this time the First World War broke out and Guillaux returned to France on 22 October 1914 on the HMAT "Orvieto" A3. He joined the French Air Force and in 1917 was loaned to the Australian Flying Corps as an instructor. He crashed as a test pilot at Villa Coublay and died on 21 May 1917. He was buried at Neuilly-sur-Seine.
Meanwhile, the Bleriot monoplane remained in Australia and on 24 January 1916 was purchased by (Robert) Graham Carey of Ballarat, Victoria, from E. De Baillou, Manager, Messageries Maritimes Steamship Co., Sydney, presumably acting for Guillaux. Graham Carey was born at Warrnambool, Victoria, on 27 August 1874. He owned a carrying firm at Port Melbourne in 1894, ran livery stables in 1900 and taxis and touring cars in South Melbourne in 1910. He moved to Ballarat in 1912 and opened the Ballarat Motor Garage in Armstrong Street, operated by his own company, the Carey Motor Coy, where he was the manager. He became fascinated with flying, probably inspired by an English pilot friend, Edwin Prosser, who lived in Ballarat, and who had learnt to fly in England at the Ewen School of Aviation at Hendon, gaining his licence, No. 526, on 18 June 1913.
With the Bleriot Carey established a flying school at Ballarat, flew at numerous charitable days and carried the first mail in South Australia in 1917. In 1919 he acquired four training bi-planes and established his own aerodrome at Fisherman's Bend, Melbourne. He also apparently delivered the first newspapers by air flying copies of the Melbourne "Herald" to Ballarat in 1920. Carey finally retired from flying at the age of 67 and later became the South Australian agent for the Caxton Publishing Company. He died in Melbourne on 5 June 1959 aged 85.
In 1920 Carey had sold the Bleriot to a former aviation pupil of his, K.J. Claffey, who had learnt to fly in 1919 at Carey's company, Melbourne Air Services. In 1937 Claffey offered the Bleriot to the Department of Defence (then responsible for civil aviation matters) for 25 pounds. On 21 September 1938 the Department inspected the Bleriot at Mr Claffey's home, at "Yarrandale", 8 miles from Denliquinn, NSW, and found the aircraft in parts. The wing and tail were stored in a galvanised iron garage while the fuselage was under a tree in the yard and the engine lying on a verandah covered with corn sacks. The Department was intending to set up a museum by erecting a memorial hangar to Sir Kingsford Smith at Mascot aerodrome. The aircraft was sent by rail to Sydney but was by then in such poor condition it could not be displayed and it seems the memorial hangar was never built. The aircraft was subsequently stored in an equipment shed at the aerodrome. It was almost in danger of being discarded as rubbish when its location was advised to the Museum in 1941 by Frank Hammond, the inventor of the visible type petrol pump. The Bleriot was then transferred to the Museum's store for safekeeping.
The Bleriot was partly restored by Mr M.A. Leech, head teacher, Aircraft Construction Class, Sydney Technical College, Ultimo, and his senior Air Force trainees, prior to display at the 21st Anniversary of the Royal Aero Club of NSW, at Bankstown Airport on 11 October 1947. The Club again displayed it on 26 November 1949. In 1964 the aircraft was given another facelift by the students and displayed at Mascot Airport at an exhibition to commemorate the Jubilee of Guillaux's historic flight on 16 July 1964. Between 1980-1981 the aircraft was fully restored by the Museum and temporarily displayed (suspended) in Stage I of the Powerhouse Museum. Several years later the Bleriot went on permanent display in the Transport Exhibition of the Powerhouse Museum which opened in 1988.