While meandering around aviation web sites, I came across an item that said the Blériot XI at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome in upstate New York might have been the one from which Harriet Quimby and a passenger fell to their deaths in 1912. Could this be true, or is it another aviation urban legend?
Photo and illustrations editor Caroline Sheen put the question to a couple of knowledgeable folks. Says Andrew King, once an Old Rhinebeck pilot and one of the most experienced fliers of early aircraft: “Harriet was killed in a two-seater, and the Rhinebeck one is a smaller one-seater. I think it is thought to have been at the Boston meet though, so that might be where the rumor started.”
And from early aircraft photographer Gilles Auliard, who has been shooting at Old Rhinebeck since 1988: “The Old Rhinebeck Blériot (c/n 56) was found in Lacomia, New Hampshire, in the early 1960s and is reputed to have participated in the Squantum meet, or so Cole Palen told me. According to the Blériot production list, it was completed in 1909 (and it actually makes sense, as Blériot was turning out models XI like pancakes).
“Harriet Quimby was flying a brand new Blériot XI at the meet, which would imply a 1912 building date, and it was reported as a two-seater version (even though this is also questionable as pictures of the meet show her in a single-seater).
“Three years of flying in the early 1900s was long time. The life expectancy of an airplane was computed in months, not in years (even though they could be repaired and modified at will to reappear later).
“It also remains to be seen if Quimby bought a French-made Blériot or a U.S.-made copy or licensed version, as there was a plethora of authorized/unauthorized manufacturers.
“If one could determine that it was a U.S.-built machine, this would be the end of the controversy.”
So, the verdict: likely an urban legend.