Aviation: Over and on the Sea

Learn about Louis Blériot, Henri Fabre, and Glenn H. Curtiss, three aviators known for their early 20th-century developments in human flight.
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1913 Hydravion Race in Deauville, France

A major advancement in human flight came in response to a contest sponsored by The Daily Mail of London, which offered a prize to the first aviator to fly across the English Channel. Louis Blériot (1872–1936) won the contest, flying from Calais, France, to Dover, England, on July 25, 1909, in a monoplane of his own design with a 25-horsepower engine. His flight caused concern among the British that the airplane could eventually be used for military aggression, and the world came to see the airplane as a future weapon.

The pioneers of the seaplane were Henri Fabre (1882–1984) and Glenn H. Curtiss (1878–1930). Fabre is generally credited with making the first seaplane flight, on March 28, 1910, at Martigues, France. His seaplane, or hydravion, had a 50-horsepower Gnome rotary engine and was mounted on lightweight hollow wooden floats. The apparatus flew only short distances, however, and just two months later it was wrecked when it took a sudden nosedive into the Mediterranean. The first practical seaplane was constructed and flown by Curtiss in 1911, and in 1919 one of Curtiss's “flying boats” made the first transatlantic crossing (with stops). He became one of the most successful American aircraft builders in the decades following the invention of the airplane.

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