1. ITV Report

Channel Challenger

Harriet Quimby about to enter the record books. Photo: Martin Young

In 1912, in a field in Dover, Harriet Quimby - wearing her trademark silk flying suit - squeezed into the impossibly narrow cockpit of a Bleriot monoplane and wrote her name in aviation history.

The date was April 16 - one hundred years ago.

It was not to be the first flight across the English Channel. That had been Louis Bleriot himself three years earlier. It was not even the first non-stop one. Charles Rolls had made an historic double crossing in 1910.

But it was the first by a female aviator, astonishing at a time when women played nothing like an equal part in social and political affairs. But then Harriet Quimby had a fiercely independent spirit and a quiet determination to achieve and succeed.

Harriet was the first American woman to hold a pilot's licence. She was a journalist by trade, even dabbling in screenwriting during the early years of motion pictures. She became fascinated in flying because her brother ran an aviation school.

Knowing there were records waiting to be broken and with breathtaking audacity, Harriet wrote to Bleriot, an engineer who designed his own aircraft, asking him to loan her a plane for the channel crossing.

The Frenchman duly provided a 50-horsepower monoplane which is how she came to be at Dover aerodrome in Whitfield on that foggy, chilly morning.

In a plane she had never flown before and with a compass she had only just worked out how to use, Quimby set off undaunted. Fifty nine minutres late she was in Calais being given a rousing welcome.

In this age of adventure, with flying all the rage, you would have expected Harriet's achievements to have been blazoned across the front pages. But the sinking of the Titanic consigned the coverage to a few photographs and some modest write-ups.

Consequently Harriet Quimby has never received anything like the sort of attention afforded to other pioneering aviators and even many people in Dover have not heard of her.

This weekend a plaque honouring Harriet was put up at the Ramada Hotel in Whitfield, close to the field where she set off. Enthusiasts also arranged for a Bleriot aircraft to take part in commemorative events.

The ultimate aim is to raise enough funds to erect a statue of Harriet in Dover itself - where there are already monuments to both Bleriot and Rolls. That will go some way to revive the memory of an extraordinary woman.