A Pioneering Trip Across the English Channel

January 7, 1785

The first-ever flight over the English Channel took place when French inventor and aviation pioneer Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American physician and scientist Dr. John Jeffries (at the time a British resident) traveled over that body of water in a gas balloon. The travel equipment on board the balloon included silk-covered oars for the men to use to help “row” their way through the air.

This history-making excursion began at Dover Castle in southeastern England and ended successfully at the commune of Guînes in northern France. The flight lasted a total of two-and-a-half-hours. To help ensure that they remained aloft during that time, Blanchard and Jeffries were forced to jettison all of the cargo on board the balloon – everything, that is, except for a package of letters containing what would become the first international airmail ever delivered.

Blanchard was awarded a huge pension by King Louis XVI for his airborne accomplishment. In addition, the king directed that the balloon used for the flight be displayed in Église Notre-Dame de Calais, a centuries-old church located in the region of France where Blanchard and Jeffries had landed.

Additional information on the first flight across the English Channel is available at https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/across-the-english-channel-in-a-balloon and https://airandspace.si.edu/stories/editorial/crossing-channel-balloon

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