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The Bleriot XI
If you want to study aerodynamics, you only need to look at very early aircraft designs like the Bleriot XI. No high bypass ratio turbofans, no upper deck lounges or global positioning systems. Rather, an airplane is a clear expression of the design solutions needed to overcome the four forces of flight: lift, weight, thrust, and drag. One of these “studies” can be done at Cole Palen’s Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in Rhinebeck, New York.
A culmination of ten previous configurations created by Louis Bleriot, who reinvested 60,000 French francs raised during an automobile lamp manufacturing venture to develop a technically successful aircraft, with names such as the Wright Brothers, Henry Furman, Santos Cuenert, Santos Dumont, Henry Furman, etc. in the race. , the Bleriot XI itself became the world’s first practical monoplane.
The Bleriot VII, providing its initial foundation, was seen with a partially enclosed fuselage to house its single pilot; The wings are built into a tubular caben framework on the cockpit; four-blade, 50-hp Antoinette engine; a large, double-elevon horizontal tail; a small rudder; and swiveling, independently sprung wheels. Although it crashed on December 18, 1907, it provided the foundation for later, definitive designs.
The Bleriot VIII retained the low-wing configuration at high speed, but featured pivoting, wing tip ailerons and a tricycle undercarriage, each with wheels.
Although the Bleriot IX was a larger variant of the VIII, and the Bleriot X introduced a pusher-propeller arrangement with a triple canard rudder, these intermediate steps did not offer much to the final design and were therefore quickly discarded. That final design took the form of the Bleriot XI.
Its long, gradually tapering fuselage, composed of ash longerons, spruce uprights and crossbeams held together by wire trusses, was light, yet strong, and provided a common attachment point for its aerodynamic surfaces and engines. Covered only half by fabric, it looked primitive and incomplete, but functional.
The fabric-covered, rib wings, with rounded tips, featured a 28.2-foot span and 151 square-foot area, and were joint-attached to the fuselage at an angle, offering significant dihedral. Their upper surface camber and sharply tilted leading edge were themselves expressions of aerodynamics. As their upper surfaces are closely guided, the airflow is deflected downward and beyond their trailing edges, reducing the upper surface pressure, increasing the airflow velocity and “reacting” the airfoil according to the principle of lift. High-lift devices such as slats and flaps or ailerons were also not included. Instead, lateral control was provided by a Wright Brothers-designed wing warping method, an inverted pylon attached to the underside of the fuselage that provided wire attachments for the warping actuators. By turning the entire wing differently, they transformed it into a giant aileron, increasing its angle of incidence and inducing inflight bank.
A rectangular-shaped, 16-square-foot stabilizer, mounted end-to-end under the tapered structure, provides deflection for pitch axis control, while a 4.5-square-foot, all-moving rudder, minuscule for the aircraft, provides yaw control. At the extreme end of the fuselage.
A three-cylinder, air-cooled, inverted-Y, 35-hp Anzani engine, replacing the original, 30-hp REP powerplant, attached to the ash frame, with a mahogany, scimitar-shaped, 6.87-foot-diameter propeller at 1,350 rpm . Due to the then insufficient power capacity of the existing engines, the Bleriot XI, like all early designs, wrestled with power-to-weight ratios, forcing its designers to use strong, but lightweight wood for the structure and fabric for the aerodynamic surfaces.
The smooth, finely sanded, intricately shaped propeller itself was a sophisticated carving and aerodynamic expression. Essentially a small wing, rotating perpendicular to the flight path, the wing creates lift, developed in thrust as the relative wind hits its plane of rotation. Because it was set at an angle of attack, and because it had a camber-shaped airfoil, it developed forward lift, here redefined as “thrust”, enabling the “twisting” of the propeller to maintain the same angle. -Higher with its pitch angle near its hub with its radius, but lower near its rim.
Further, the ash frame provided attachment points for two of the aircraft’s three finely-spoked, rotatable, rubber-tired wheels, whose periodic tape wrapping ensured adhesion between tire and rim. The undercarriage’s unique, rotatable ability, tracing its origins to the Bleriot VII, made the aircraft more capable of flying in crosswind field conditions, as the short rudder offered insufficient area to counteract them to any appreciable degree, and the assemblage was otherwise too weak. To resist side loads constructively. As a result, they were able to track the ground at an angle.
The cockpit, with its sides framed in wood and rubber fabric, featured a Blériot-designed control system consisting of a small, round, non-turning wheel mounted on a vertical post that was a round, metal, half-domed “cloche,” or “bell” in French. , to which two forward and rear wing-actuating and two side wing-warping cables were attached. The surface was moved by moving the stick forward, backward, or both. Cockpit “sophistication” was completed with an engine throttle on the right side and two instruments: a compass and a fuel quantity indicator.
A small, barrel-like fuel tank was installed horizontally between the engine and the cockpit.
The Bleriot XI, powered by a 35-hp Anzani engine, featured a 661-ppund gross weight and could achieve a 47-mph speed.
On its first flight on March 15, 1909, with the earlier REP powerplant, it had traveled only 8,200 feet, but this inauspicious start was not indicative of the design’s performance and success just four months later, on July 25. Made the record-breaking, 25-mile, first cross-Channel flight from Calais, France to Dover, England, winning the Daily Mail a 1,000 British pound prize for the feat. The historic event, which attracted worldwide attention, created a flood of orders for the variant.
The Bleriot XI’s design, low horsepower and minimal impact surfaces dictate its performance. A brakeless aircraft, for example, can be steered directionally by its small rudder on the ground. Take-off, due to the high angle-of-incidence of the wing, is best achieved with a full clutch, or throttle, advance, which raises the tail to a position parallel to the ground and puts all the weight of the aircraft on its main wheels. Depending on their degree, wind-induced tracking angles can be partially or completely counteracted by rudder deflection, and its rotatable undercarriage further enhances this. Thus profiled, the aircraft is induced into a shallow climb. The camber and area of the wing, along with ground effect, helps with this temporarily, but it still has the characteristics of an abrupt stop.
A step-climb profile produces lift at each “plateau”, not according to air traffic control restrictions, but instead according to speed requirements.
Although the full throttle setting is required to maintain maximum flow to meet the engine’s “air-cooled” requirements, the slow, weak design is susceptible to wind gusts and the banks must be shallow and gentle. Not enough power is available to resist the 30-degree-and-above turns that rapidly increase wing loading and inevitably lead to stalls. Lateral, wing-warping control is minimal and sluggish.
Full-power, nose-down descents are ideally caught with throttle reduction before the wheels touch the ground. A previous power reduction, due to insufficient engine power, would force the airframe into its tailskid due to intractable, and pre-landing overflaring.
The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome Bleriot XI, construction #56, is the oldest stable-flying airframe in the US, eclipsed only by the Shuttleworth Collection’s Bleriot, with construction #14.
After it crashed during a 1910 air meeting in Saugus, Massachusetts, the Rhinebeck example was later acquired by Professor HH Caberne, who passed it every day while cycling to work and stored it until it was given to Bill Champlin. Laconia, New Hampshire. Further donated to Cole Palen in 1952, it was stripped of the engine and aerodynamic surfaces, but its front and rear thirds were otherwise complete. Two years later in October, newly built wings, horizontal stabilizers and rudders were installed at Stormville Airport.
Because of the aircraft’s fragility, it is limited to “short hops” over Old Rhinebeck’s rolling grass field during Saturday’s “History of Flight” air show, reaching an altitude of only 60 feet. Still, this short hop of a beautifully simple expression of aerodynamics traces its origins and therefore represents the “long haul” across the English Channel to the original Bleriot XI a century ago as the world’s first practical monoplane and predecessor. Every modern plane that now regularly connects the world.
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