Notes from the Past

Pioneer Airmail Flights - Part IV

Hubert Latham Attempts to Fly the Channel

As noted yesterday, There are a number of instances in the early days of aviation when airplanes carried letters or other messages which qualified as mail if not officially recognized.

One example was a letter almost carried across the English Channel just two days after Blériot's record flight.

Hubert Latham, a Frenchman of English descent, began flying in February, 1909, and was the first to try to fly across the channel in a heavier-than-air craft on July 19 (Blériot's flight was on July 25).  Balloonists, including Latham, had made successful flights across the channel thirty-four more times after Jean-Pierre Blanchard and a Dr. Jeffries from Boston made the first crossing in 1785!  Unfortunately for Latham, the engine on his Antoinette monoplane failed and he went into the water seven miles short of his goal.

Latham ordered a replacement Antoinette from the factory near Puteaux after his rescue and return to his base at Sangatte, near Calais.  After Blériot's success, Latham tried again two days later on July 27.  Again he fell short of his goal by several miles.  He had carried with him a letter addressed to Lord Northcliffe of the London Daily Mail, prize sponsor, from Walter Windham who had observed the preparations of both Blériot and Latham in France.  Had he been successful this would have been the first letter carried across the channel.  The message was recovered but Windham said it was too damaged to be forwarded.

To Be Continued

Posted September 13, 2000

Editor's Note:  This series will draw on Donald B. Holmes' Air Mail -- an illustrated history 1793-1981 which is an exceptional piece of philatelic literature and The American Air Mail Catalogue Vol. 1 published by the American Air Mail Society.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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