Channel Crossing by Air

2z. Polish stamp depicting Blanchard and Jeffries, who made the first aerial crossing of the English Channel on 7 January 1785

The Smithsonian National Space and Air Museum remembered the first Channel crossing by air in a webpost titled ‘Crossing the Channel in a Balloon’. Tom Crouch explained that the arrival of pioneering French exhibition balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard (1753–1809) to England in 1784 sparked excitement over ballooning. Boston-born John Jeffries MD, an American loyalist living in England, supported Blanchard’s plan to fly across the English Channel. On 7 January 1785, Blanchard and Jeffries made the first aerial crossing of the Channel, flying from Dover to Calais. Poland dedicated a 2z. value of the Balloon set for the Gordon Bennett Trophy of 25 March 1981 (Mi 2730) to these pioneers.

Other lengthy flights were less successful. On 15 June 1785, five months after Blanchard and Jeffries, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, one of the first two men to fly, and Jules Romaine attempted the first crossing from France to England. They were flying using a mixed hot-air and hydrogen balloon; a type known as a Rozier. A valve rope whipping over the upper part of the balloon holding the hydrogen generated static electricity, which ignited the balloon. The two men became the first balloonists to die in a crash. France honoured Pilâtre de Rozier on the 150th anniversary of his death with a 75c. green-blue commemorative stamp on 4 June 1936 (Mi 318). Single mint unhinged examples are on offer up to €25, while blocks of four with the printing date in the margin are priced €33–€72. Maximum cards of this issue demand €20–€100.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was unsuccessful in crossing the channel in June 1785

The first man who crossed the Channel in an aeroplane was the French aviator, inventor and engineer Louis Charles Joseph Blériot (1872–1936). When The Daily Mail newspaper announced a prize of £1000 being offered for such a flight made before the end of 1909, Blériot intended to fly across the Channel in his Type XI monoplane. After sunrise in the morning of 25 July, he took off at 4.41am, flying at approximately 45mph and an altitude of about 250ft (76m). After 36 minutes and 30 seconds, without the help of a compass, he reached a suitable spot to crash-land close to Dover Castle. The Blériot Memorial today marks this landing spot above the cliffs. The Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris has preserved the aircraft that made him world famous. Cavendish achieved £90 for a 22 August 1909 Reims Aviation Week picture postcard to Germany marking the first crossing of the English Channel by Louis Bleriot on 25 July. It had been franked by a 5c. Sower tied by a c.d.s. from the Reims Air Show (22–29 August) and had a vignette on the bottom right of the picture side. (The lot also included a 10 December 1918 flown Mulready design reproduction card with printed ‘STAMP COLLECTING AERIAL SOUVENIR’.)

Postcard marking the first crossing of the English Channel in an aeroplane

Many stamp issues pay tribute to Blériot’s 1909 venture. From Europe, I would like to mention the 40l. value from Albania’s eight-stamp set on the History of Aviation from 20 June 2001 (Mi 2823); Belgium’s se-tenant strip of five of 6 June 2009 (Mi 3966); the Serb Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina on the centenary of International Aviation Organisation (IAO) in sheetlets of eight plus tab from 14 October 2005 (Mi 352); and Germany’s surcharged 50pf.+25pf. in a quartet of 13 April 1978 (Mi 966). France issued a violet 2f.25 airmail stamp on the 25th anniversary of the event on 1 September 1934, with his monoplane over a map (Mi 294, Yvert PA 7), followed by a 50c.+10c. surcharged portrait on 1 July 1972 (Mi 1800, Yvert 1709) and a 2f. airmail for the centenary on 25 July 2009 (Mi 4711, Yvert PA 72).

Article by Michael Burzan

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