Harriet Quimby's Flight Across the English Channel

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While covering the 1910 Belmont Park Aviation Meet for Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, Harriet's interest in aviation soared. She convinced her paper to pay the $750 for flight school, and began taking lessons in secret on May 1, 1911 at the Moisant Flight School at Hempstead Plains, Long Island under chief flight instructor Andre Haupert. The secret did not last long, and she began writing articles about her experiences. On August 1, 1911, she finished the last of three tests required by the International Aeronautical Federation and confirmed by Aero Club of America, and she received her pilot's license, the first woman in the US and second in the world to do so. She joined the ranks of early pilots less than eight years after the Wright brothers' first flight.

Bleriot Flight Demonstration
This photo shows a Bleriot with an unknown pilot flying over a crowd. This is the kind of thing Harriet Quimby did when she was a member of the Moisant International Aviators, an exhibition flying team. -- Photographed by F. W. Glasier, Brockton, Mass.

Perhaps her most significant achievement occurred on the morning of April 16, 1912, when Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel.

Aviation School Ad
This ad appeared in Country Life in America Magazine probably from around 1910.

The Flight In Her Words

"It was a cold five-thirty a.m. when my machine got off the ground. The preliminaries were brief. Hearty handshakes were quickly given, the motor began to make its twelve hundred revolutions a minute, and I put up my hand to give the signal of release. Then I was off. The noise of the motor drowned the shouts and cheers of friends below. In a moment I was in the air, climbing steadily in a long circle. I was up fifteen hundred feet within thirty seconds. From this high point of vantage, my eyes lit on Dover Castle. It was half hidden in a fog bank. I felt that trouble was coming, but I made directly for the flagstaff of the castle, as I had promised the waiting MIRROR photographers and the moving-picture men I should do.

"In an instant I was beyond the cliffs and over the channel. Far beneath me I saw the MIRROR's tug, with its steam of black smoke. It was trying to keep ahead of me, but I passed it in a jiffy. Then the thickened fog obscured my view. Calais was out of sight. I could not see ahead of me nor could I see the water below. There was only one thing for me to do and that was to keep my eyes fixed on the compass.

"My hands were covered with long Scotch woolen gloves, which gave me good protection from the cold and fog; but the machine was wet and my face was so covered with dampness that I had to push my goggles up on my forehead. I could not see through them. I was traveling at over a mile a minute. The distance straight across from Dover to Calais is only about twenty-two miles, and I knew that land must be in sight if I could only get below the fog and see it. So I dropped from an altitude of about two thousand feet until I was half that height. The sunlight struck upon my face and my eyes lit upon the white and sandy shores of France. I felt happy, but I could not find Calais. Being unfamiliar with the coast line, I could not locate myself. I determined to reconnoiter and come down to a height of about five hundred feet and traverse the shore.

"Meanwhile, the wind had risen and the currents were coming in billowy gusts. I flew a short distance inland to locate myself or find a good place to alight. It was all tilled land below me, and rather than tear up the farmers' fields I decided to drop down on the hard and sandy beach. I did so at once, making an easy landing. Then I jumped from my machine, and I was alone upon the shore. But it was only a few moments. A crowd of fishermen--men, women, and children each carrying a pail of sand worms--came rushing from all directions toward me. They were chattering in French, of which I comprehended sufficient to discover that they knew I had crossed the channel. These humble fisherfolk knew what had happened. They were congratulating themselves that the first woman to cross in an aeroplane had landed on their fishing beach."
-- "An American Girl's Daring Exploit." Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. May 16, 1912

Harriet Quimby Pioneer Pilot
This is a 1991 commemorative stamp in honor of Arcadia native Harriet Quimby and her accomplishments as an aviation pioneer.
© 1991 U.S. Postal Service. Used with permission 


The New York Times Story about the Flight

Harriet Quimby's Greeting in France
Good Housekeeping Magazine. September 1912. "Woman's Record in Aviation." Page 317

On April 17, 1912, the news in the New York Times and other papers focused on the Titanic, which hit an iceberg shortly before midnight April 14 and sank early in the morning on the 15th. The following article appeared on page 15.


American the First Woman to
Pilot an Aeroplane Across---
Alights Near Boulogne.
The First Woman to Obtain an Avia-
tion Diploma in This Country---
Refused to Fly on Sunday.

By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph
to New York Times

   LONDON, April 16.---Miss Harriet Quimby, the American airwoman, flying under the name of "Miss Craig," flew across the English Channel today, being the first woman pilot to accomplish this feat.
   She left the Dover aerodrome on a Bleriot monoplane at 5:30 A.M. passing over the town at a good speed and at a great height. She disappeared in the direction of Calais, and thirty minutes later was seen over Cape Gris Nez. She landed safely at Hardelot, further down the coast, near Boulogne, after making two circles over Boulogne.
    Miss Quimby stated that she had a splendid trip in spite of the fog. She says she intends to return to England by air.
    Miss Quimby, who had not previously flown in this country, was the first woman in America to win a license as an aviation pilot. She also has a French air license. When flying, she wears a knickerbocker costume of thick wool, packed with satin. It is made in one piece, including the hood, which by an ingenious device can be converted into a conventional walking skirt.


   Miss Quimby's feat is not the first in which this particularly daring young woman has led the way for her sex. She won the first air diploma for a woman in America, made the first flight by a woman in this country, and for a period held the American endurance record.
    Once at an aviation meet at Nassau Boulevard Miss Quimby achieved fame of another kind by positively refusing a large financial return if she would consent to go aloft on Sunday. She had established the American endurance record for women the day before and was on the programme to defend her title against Mile. Detrieu, who had just arrived from France after sweeping the field of records for women. Miss Quimby announced that she had promised her mother that she would not fly on Sunday and would not think of doing so. From a hangar she watched her opponent soar aloft until her own record had been broken by many minutes. She said she didn't care, as a record won on Sunday would be to her not worth the while.
    Until August of last year Miss Quimby had never been heard of in the field of aviation, although she was beginning to make her way as a magazine writer and author of books. One afternoon at Hempstead Plains, it was announced that a woman was going to fly for her pilot's license. The aviators at the flying ground did not believe the report. Miss Quimby appeared, however, in flying togs. At 5 o'clock she climbed into her machine for a trial spin, but there was much fog overhead, and she hesitated until 7 o'clock, when she took to the air in the presence of a few spectators. She rose to a height of 100 feet, cut a series of figures of eight, from which she had ascended. On a second spin she went to a height of 200 feet, to comply with the regulation as to altitude, and on a third she made an effort to show her control in starting and alighting. She came down at last a full-fledged airwoman, and there was considerable applause. That was last Aug. 2.
   Miss Quimby's next appearance was destined to give her permanent fame. At a Staten Island fair in September she essayed to fly, and, news of her plan having been spread abroad, motion picture men, camera men, kodak men, and special writers appeared upon the scene. Miss Quimby did very well, and thereafter her photographs became familiar.
    Early this year she went abroad. It was not supposed by her friends here that she meant to make any flights while in Europe. She was taught to fly by A. J. Houpert in the Moisant monoplane that was used by Matilde Moisant during her period of instruction.

The Scientific American Story about the Flight

New York Times Cover

The Article on Page 15:

On June 1, 1912, the following article appeared in Scientific American with photos of her plane high above the castle at Dover, Harriet standing in her famous flying costume front of her plane, and Harriet being carried in celebration on the beach at Hardelot.

The Crossing of the English Channel by an American Aviatress

BESIDES being the first American woman to procure a pilot's license,  Miss Harriet Quimby recently gained fame by being the first aviatress to fly across the English Channel. A number of women flyers have planned to make this trip at one time or another, but none have actually accomplished it, or even, for that matter, made a start. Miss Quimby decided to make this flight some months ago, and early in March she took a special trip abroad for the purpose. In a fifty horsepower Gnome-engined Bleriot she started at 4 A. M. on April 16 from Dover. Describing a large circle, she passed over Dover Castle as shown in our illustration, and in five minutes she was lost to view far out over the Channel. Steering by a tug which was awaiting her in mid-channel, she rose to 3,000 feet. She continued climbing for several minutes more until she was at twice the height. Soon after passing the tug she plunged into a dense fog and was obliged to steer by compass. Despite some motor trouble she landed at Hardelot, near Calais. She was greeted by the fishermen and life-savers and carried in triumph to the life-saving station by some friends. She was treated with great consideration and, as a reward for her flight, was presented with a large old China tea cup from which she had been sipping a warming drink; for although she wore three coats and furs, traveling 60 miles an hour through dense fog she found very chilling.

The flight across the Channel was made in a straight line, the 22 miles being covered in 20 minutes. The total time from start until a landing was made at Hardelot was about 40 minutes.

June 1, 1912 Cover

SciAmer06011912Pg492ThumbPage 492.

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