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The Cross-channel Flight

( Originally Published 1910 )


DOVER, Sunday, July 25.

I am more than happy that I have crossed the Channel.

At first I promised my wife I would not make the attempt ; then I determined that if one failed I would be the first to come. And I am here.

At 2.30 this morning I rose at the Terminus Hotel, at Calais, and at three o'clock departed with my friend M. Le Blanc in a motor-car to Baraques. On our way we noted that the weather was favourable to my endeavour. We therefore ordered the torpedo destroyer Escopette, generously placed at my disposal by our Government, to start. At 3.30 a.m. we went to the garage, and examined the aeroplane, which is my eleventh. I started the engine and found that it worked well. All was ready for the start. At 4 o'clock I took my seat in the aeroplane and made a trial flight of one quarter of an hour around Calais and its environs.

At 4.30 we could see all round. Daylight had come. . My thoughts were only upon the flight, and my determination to accomplish it this morning. 4.35 ! Tout est prêt ! Le Blanc gives the signal and in an instant I am in the air, my engine making ',zoo revolutions—almost its highest speed—in order that I may get quickly over the telegraph wires along the edge of the cliff. As soon as I am over the cliff I reduce my speed. There is now no need to force my engine.

I begin my flight, steady and sure, towards the coast of England. I have no apprehensions, no sensations, pas du tout. The Escopette has seen me. She is driving ahead at full speed. She makes perhaps 42 kilometres (about 26 miles) an hour. What matters ? I am making at least 68 kilometres (424 miles). Rapidly I overtake her, travelling at a height of 8o metres (about 250 ft.). The moment is supreme, yet I surprise myself by feeling no exultation. Below me is the sea, the surface disturbed by the wind, which is now freshening. The motion of the waves beneath me is not pleasant. I drive on. Ten minutes have gone. I have passed the destroyer, and I turn my head to see whether I am proceeding in the right direction. I am amazed. There is nothing to be seen, neither the torpedo-destroyer, nor France, nor England. I am alone. I can see nothing at all—rien du tout ! For ten minutes I am lost. It is a strange position to be alone, unguided, without compass, in the air over the middle of the Channel. I touch nothing. My hands and feet rest lightly on the levers. I let the aeroplane take its own course. I care not whither it goes. For ten minutes I continue, neither rising nor falling, nor turning. And then, twenty minutes after I have left the French coast, I see the green cliffs of Dover, the Castle, and away to the west the spot where I had intended to land. What can I do ? It is evident that the wind has taken me out of my course. I am almost at St. Margaret's Bay and going in the direction of the Goodwin Sands.

Now it is time to attend to the steering. I press the lever with my foot and turn easily towards the west, reversing the direction in which I am travelling. Now, indeed, I am in difficulties, for the wind here by the cliffs is much stronger, and my speed is reduced as I fight against it. Yet my beautiful aeroplane responds. Still steadily I fly west-wards, hoping to cross the harbour and reach the Shakespeare Cliff. Again the wind blows. I see an opening in the cliff. Although I am confident that I can continue for an hour and a half, that I might indeed return to Calais, I cannot resist the opportunity to make a landing upon this green spot. Once more I turn my aeroplane, and describing a half-circle, I enter the opening and find myself again over dry land. Avoiding the red buildings on my right, I attempt a landing ; but the wind catches me and whirls me round two or three times. At once I stop my motor, and instantly my machine falls straight upon the land from a height of 20 metres (65 ft.). In two or three seconds I am safe upon your shore. Soldiers in khaki run up, and a policeman. Two of my compatriots are on the spot. They kiss my cheeks. The conclusion of my flight overwhelms me.

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