View Full Version : 100 years of powered flight, today.

31st Mar 2002, 12:45
Today, 100 years ago, Kiwi Richard Pearse flew his completely home-made aeroplane about 350 yards, on the road outside his farm on the south island of New Zealand.
The aeroplane took off under its own power, and flew until unfortnately meeting a large hedge!
His most impressive flight, a one thousand yard one, including turns and flight out of ground effect, was not until about a year later though, in May 1903.
The primitive aeroplane had a very clever two cylinder/four piston (in action) engine, and for controls he had elevators, a crude type of aileron that he invented and patented himself, and a rudder.

tony draper
31st Mar 2002, 13:33
The truth will out Bill :rolleyes:

Top of Descent
1st Apr 2002, 20:00
An absolutely amazing feat from a man isolated from the rest of the avation world at that period of time and a real tribute to the No 8 wire backshed tinker mentality from Sth Canterbury
And who said that a Kiwi is a flightless bird that can't fly??

2nd Apr 2002, 02:45
Not to mention the trycicle undercarrage..

Visited the memorial to richard pearce a few weeks back when touring the south island, got a little lost trying to find it. Its a pity it looks a bit negelcted and there is not too much information.. (the hedge is no-longer)..


2nd Apr 2002, 07:38
Is there a web site where we can learn more about Mr. Pearce and his accomplishments?

henry crun
2nd Apr 2002, 08:00
Try here Goodfellow


2nd Apr 2002, 09:18
I have a reasonable page on him - www.billzilla.org/pearse.htm

Tiger_ Moth
2nd Apr 2002, 12:59
I thought the wright brothers were first? Someone explain this to me!

Kermit 180
3rd Apr 2002, 11:52
Simply, Pearse flew before the Wrights. Not debatable. It was reported in newspapers of the day, namely the 'Temuka Leader' and the 'Otago Times'. However, whether he was in total control of his aeroplane during these flights is debatable.

The first Pearse attempt took off in late 1902 (yes, 1902!) from a downhill 12metre high terrace beside the Opihi River, turned right and travelled a kilometre up stream and landed on the river bed. Pearse did not accept this flight as being totally 'sustained powered' flight. It is also interesting to note that later he did not accept the Wright's attempt as being that either.

In March (nine months before Orville and Wilbur made their flight) 1903, Pearse took off from the main road at Waitohi opposite the school house. Witnesses say he took off at speed down the road, became airborne and flew for some distance past his farm. The flight ended when he landed on top of one of his own overgrown gorse hedges.

Pearse's machine was not aided in the takeoff in any way or form other than by the small home made engine. Flyer 1 was catapulted off a ramp on rails to aid it's takeoff.

I believe the history books should stay as they are with regards to Flyer 1 being the first to fly (in sustained powerd flight under full control), but recognition for Pearse should go much much further than it ever has. I have made other comments in the other Richard Pearse-related thread in this forum.


I have control
6th Apr 2002, 04:31
We have been through all this before on this forum. Pearse did not make a powered, sustained and controlled flight in New Zealand before the Wright Brothers. Neither did Clement Ader in France, Gustav Whitehead in Connecticut or James Preston Watson in Scotland.

The Wrights deserve their place in history for inventing the aeroplane, because, to be frank, they did it. Their control system in particular was an invention to rival anything before or since.

As has been patiently explained on this forum before, the first Wright Flyer was not catapulted anywhere, it took off entirely under its own power. The assisted launch was not used by the Wright Brothers until 1904, after their first flight at Kitty Hawk.

It might not be exciting, fun, conversation-starting or headline-grabbing to learn that the history books are correct about the Wright Brothers, but it dishonors the memory of all aviation pioneers to spread falsehoods about who did what.

6th Apr 2002, 09:44
If you were right, I'd agree with you.
Despite your fervent wishes, it has been confirmed by many people through different means that Pearse did exactly the flights I mentioned.
You have yet to tell me exactly what a 1000 yard flight, including two turns, including out of ground effect flight, and taking off under his own power flight should be labeled as.
Anyone with anything like common sense would call it sustained controlled flight.

And please get your facts straight - The Wrights did not 'invent' the aeroplane, they were one of the early pioneers. People had been flying aeroplanes, gliders mainly of course, well before them. They, again, were only of the first to put a successful engine on one and make it work.

As for dishonour, it can only be a tragedy that Pearse is not recognised for his amazing First Flight.

7th Apr 2002, 01:18
I don't want to knock the Wrights, they did a tremendous job. But their accomplishments don't need to be exaggerated either.

They used catapults for their gliders, and it would be logical that they used them for the Flyer too. I have an old book that says they did just that, and have not seen anything to refute that book.

All their flights in the Flyer ended up out of control after a few seconds or less than a minute, the final one broke the Flyer, which never flew again. A reproduction of the Flyer cannot be flown, it is too unstable. If their 'experiment' cannot be replicated, does it count? If they did not take off under their own power, and did not make a controllable flight, do they deserve the accolades?

Major pioneers, though, giants in the field.

It would make more sense to give the credit to their next attempt, a year later, in which case Glenn Curtiss would be a contender for the honours as well.

I have control
7th Apr 2002, 03:49
18 Wheeler. At the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, dozens of people around the world were experimenting with gliders and aeroplanes. What sets the Wright Brothers apart from the rest is the fact that they methodically set about a process of invention and, step by step, little by little, whittled away at an age old problem and eventually solved it. Their achievements did not begin or end on December 17th 1903. The whole period 1899 to 1910 was one of gradual and methodical learning, trial and error, understanding. During this time period the Wright Brothers invented the modern aeroplane. They took aerofoil research and design to an entirely new level; they built the most efficient propellers that had ever been made; they invented the modern system of controlling an aeroplane, the heritage of which is seen in 99% of every aeroplane that flies today. They demonstrated fine engineering skills in the physical construction of their aeroplanes and powerplants. They left a strong legacy of documentation, drawings, journals, photographs etc which allows this process to be examined, studied and verified. Numerous contemporary independent eyewitness accounts exist of their flights.They were an inspiration in their own time, influenced the work of many other pioneers, and continue to inspire many people today. I can refer you to numerous thick books based on recognised historical sources that show the Wright's achievements in great detail.

Against this we have a person who had no noticeable influence on the development of aviation around the world, who left virtually no record of his work, who is on record as recognising that the Wright Brothers made the world's first powered & controlled flight, and whose "claim" is based very largely upon oral testimony gathered decades after the event under questionable circumstances. I have worked with oral history all my professional life and it has taught me that whilst people can have a very good mental recall of what happened (and I have no doubt that people saw Pearse fly), on the question of dates they are notoriously unreliable - even with short distances of time, never mind long distances.

Boofhead please research your facts. The Wright Brothers did not use catapults to launch their gliders, they did not use a catapult to launch the 1903 Flyer, their flights were not "out of control", their longest flight that day was terminated due to declining engine efficiency, the plane was not damaged in a flying accident, it was overturned by the wind later in the day.

Their experiment will be replicated next year - please, please, please everyone check out the amazing work of the Wright Experience in rediscovering and replicating the discovery process the Wright Brothers went through:



7th Apr 2002, 11:39
They refined the aeroplane, they certainly did not invent it, in the correct sense of the word.

You have not researched Pearse as I have, that much is apparent, so you are unaware of the cross-referencing that has been made into his flights.
The distances and dates are firm and correct.
I'm sorry he wasn't an American, so you don't believe it.

We're obviously not going to agree on this, so do not bother to post further on it.

8th Apr 2002, 00:32

I have documents published in 1935 that state the Flyer was catapult launched, using a system of weights and pulleys to drive the trolley on which it sat for takeoff, a system used for launching the previous gliders (those that were not foot launched). I have seen pictures of these systems. You, however, say that this is not true, and all you give me to suport this is your opinion.
You could be right, but until you support your claim, leave me to my delusions.

Later models used wheels and could indeed take off under their own power.

My book (Aerial Wonders of Our Times) also states that the Flyer was damaged. (it suddenly dived into the ground, breaking several struts and damaging the landing skid).

Recent magazine articles have stated that the flyer is/was uncontrollable, although I cannot quote them at present since my access to the library is currently curtailed due to copyright problems. When I get back in there I will research it and post it here.

Cayley was one of their sources for aviation theory, and without his guidance they might have taken years longer to get it right, and Cayley used information from many other places, including Hargreaves (box kites), yet these other pioneers are generally ignored.

The single factor that made the Wrights famous and convinced the world they did it first was the photograph of their flight. Without that they would have been dismissed as crackpots, like (perhaps) Pearse and MacDonald before them. (and maybe others!).

I have great admiration for the Wrights, who thoroughly deserve their place in history, but there is no need to exaggerate their achievements.

I have control
8th Apr 2002, 02:38
18 wheeler
I am not American and I do not believe it that a person's nationality is of importance when coming to a judgement about their importance in history. Unlike you, as you have now mentioned it twice. I am open-minded enough to read your cross references if you care to post them.

As I have said, the assisted launch you describe WAS used by the Wright Brothers, but not before 1904. This is not my opinion this is a matter of established historical fact. If you like I could provide you an extensive reading list so you can check for yourself.
Maybe your book refers to an earlier failed attempt when the Flyer did indeed crash shortly after takeoff. It was repaired and flown again on December 17th 2003 - successfully and without a crash.
Maybe you need to update your library - you have made another mistake. George Cayley was not influenced by Lawrence Hargrave (not "Hargreaves"). Cayley was dead before Hargrave invented the box kite. But you are correct that the Wrights were influenced by them both - plus others. But NOT Richard Pearse, who had basically zero impact on the development of the aeroplane.

8th Apr 2002, 04:42

Sorry, I was in a hurry and meant to write Chanute, not Cayley.

According to the records in the Air and Space Museum the last flight of the day resulted in a 'rough' landing, damaging the rudder. When the airplane was taken to the shed for repair the wind blew it over and 'demolished' it.

I will scan my book and send you a copy of the relevant pages, it makes for interesting reading.

Kermit 180
8th Apr 2002, 08:55
Might want to adjust that date you mention mate (17 December 2003). Should that be 1903?

8th Apr 2002, 15:17
The reference material are books written by Geoffery Rodliffe and George Bolt; all the ones I've seen do not have ISBN numbers, so they would be hard to order from a bookshop.
Your profile shows you as living in Oshkosh, so it was a fair assumption that you are an American.
There are many examples of history incorrectly showing that the US has done this and that. I don't want to go anti-US, but -
A few spring to mind ...
- Edison invented the light bulb first. Incorrect. (Tony Draper can give details on this)
- Lindburg was the first to fly the Altantic. Incorrect. (Allcock & Brown, Vickers Vimy)
- Alan Sheperd was the first man in space. Incorrect. (Take a look at the cover of the HBO series, "From the Earth to the Moon", it's written there. I have also emailed numerous on-line US museums to correct them on this)
- The US invented television. Incorrect. (Many people contributed to the intoto 'invention' of television. There were a few key people, but no one person really stands out)
- The US invented the computer. Incorrect. (In the early days, the Brits did virtually all the hard work)
- Other stuff that I can't remember right now, too tired.
So yes, there is certainly a valid point that in cases like this a persons nationality can be important.

18th Apr 2002, 06:54
I'm not getting into the debate on nationalities here, just thought I would add a note to something that I noticed in earlier posts on this thread.

People mention the 'uncontrollability' of the Wright Flyer. I think it would be better labeled as the 'lack of stability'. One of the decisions the Wrights made was to sacrifice a lot of stability in favour of controllability. Earlier attempts by other pioneers had ended in failure when their contraptions were unable to correct for gusts or instability because of the sometimes non-existence of flight controls.

Instead the Wrights took an unstable airplane, made it controllable and learned to fly it like this. IMHO this was one of the innovations of their design. Obviously they had to correct for the lack of stability later on but this was taken care of in later designs if I remember correctly.

All right, I can't resist adding this: @18 wheeler (and other interested parties): Indeed the British got their 'Colossus' running near the end of WWII and this is a very strong contender for the title of 'first computer' but NOBODY KNEW about this until the late 70's!!! So the reason for the misconception can be found in the secrecy of the British Government! Obviously by now everybody is reluctant to rewrite a history book that, to everybody's best knowledge, was completely correct for over 30 years! (for more info on Colossus: www.codesandciphers.org.uk)

18th Apr 2002, 11:44
18-wheeler, it all depends on what you understand to be a "computer" - the difference between analog and digital computers, and whether you are considering mechanical, electro-mechanical, or electronic devices. Another problem in attributing the title of "first computer", is that different teams achieved different "goals" in parallel during development, but sometimes the project took much longer to complete, if at all. Do you date the milestone, or when the computer was fully operational?

There are many sites on this subject, the following is pretty accurate as far as I can assess:


If interested, read on.

The Abacus is sometimes considered as a computer, and this has been around for some 5,000 years(Middle East). However, it is often held that the Brit Charles Babbage produced the first computer in his Difference Engine(1822), but of course this was "mechanical" rather than "electronic". Even before this there were a number of other mechanical "calculators" with limited functionality, including one by the Frenchman Blaise Pascal(1640), and conceptual drawings by the Italian Leonardo da Vinci(1500), later used to produce a working model.

In the early 1800s, Frenchman Jacquard used a rudimentary punched card system to control weaving machines, a concept which American Herman Hollerith(1890) used, linked to a mechanical calculating machine, to process the 1890 US census. His company was later to become IBM!

In 1927, an American called Vanneva Bush created what is generally held to be the first analog computer.

In 1936 British Alan Turing devised the first conceptual electronic computer, and shortly afterwards was heavily involved with the COLOSSUS(1943).

A German called Konrad Zuse(1936) may well have invented the first electro-mechanical computer with his "Z" series. Due to constraints of the war, he was actually held back from producing his concept of a valve-based computer.

In 1939 an American called John Atanasoff may, or may not have invented the first electronic computer - while some observers agreed that the machine was completed and did work, others reported that it was almost completed and would have worked, while still others stated that it was just a collection of parts that never worked! The jury remains out on that one.

Between 1939 to 1943, an American called Howard Aiken worked on the first digital computer at Harvard - Mark 1. This is the same man who predicted in 1947 that only 6 digital computers would be needed to satisfy the computing needs of the whole of the USA!

The first general purpose computer was probably ENIAC(1943-46), produced at the University of Pennsylvania by Mauchly and Eckert . Their patent for the first electronic computer was actually struck out in 1973 in favour of Atanasoff. They went on to build EDVAC(1944-52), which lead to the development of the first commercially available computer UNIVAC 1(1951). Although sometimes considered to be the first computer able to store programs, this is more likely to be the "Baby" computer, produced at Manchester University by Brits Williams and Kilburn(1946-8).

At about the same time(1949) Cambridge University were building EDSAC, similar to EDVAC, and completed earlier.

18th Apr 2002, 12:14
Interesting (coming back to flight rather than computers) that Hiram Maxim designed built & tested a gigantic powered aircraft before the Wrights, but it never left the safety of its take off rail. See this month's Flyer for a writeup and photos.

18th Apr 2002, 14:15
It's not commonly known, but the first programmable electronic computer was conceived by Tommy Flowers, in the UK. IT was later known as Colossus. Turning did not have much to do with the design of it.
It was programmed by a paper tape that ran through a pressure sensor device, and the holes in the tape controlled the machinery. In normal running, the tape would pass through the sensor at 30mph, but if they were in a real hurry they occasionally ran it at up to 60mph, but with a real risk of the tape breaking! ;)
This is the interview I saw of Tommy Flowers, who at that time worked for the telephone exchange and was helping on the Bombe units, which again Turning did not invent (they're Polish in origin) but improved upon.
All this was kept Top Secret for fifty odd years after the war, as the Brits did not want the rest of the world to know that they could read Enigma machine codes with the Colossus computers, hence they encouraged the proliferation of the encoding machine to many countries. Flowers was required to keep his part in the operation totally secret for that fifty years, so very few people have heard of him.
There's more info on the Bletchly Park site, of which URL I can't come up with right now ....

18th Apr 2002, 19:22
Just a few corrections 18 wheeler: Colossus was not used to decipher Enigma but rather a vastly different system known to the Germans as Lorenz, and to the British as Tunny (the actual messages were given the code name 'Fish'). The actual 'programming' was done using common phone jacks on a large plugboard. The paper tape held the message to be deciphered, and was read optically, not with pressure sensors.

For more info on this: http://www.codesandciphers.org.uk

18th Apr 2002, 22:46
Righto, that rings a bell now, thanks.

27th Apr 2002, 03:21

Replicas and computer models show that the Flyer was unstable, especially in pitch, and that when modern pilots have a go at flying it in the sim they usually manage about one second before they lose control. If you read Wibur's account of the flying that day, especially the last, fourth flight, it would appear that the airplane had neutral stability in roll, since when the Flyer was upset in a gust, he applied opposite control via wing warping but it had no effect and he lost control, scraping a wing and nosing in, damaging the 'front rudder'. Luckily, he was only a few feet above the ground and his groundspeed was less than 20 mph so that he was not hurt. An argument could be made that the Flyer was not flyable except by the Wrights, and therefore their success could not be replicated, until the next model was flown, on its second attempt, 18 months later.
Wonderful achievement all the same.

27th Apr 2002, 06:49
Boofhead, thank you for your comments. They actually ring a bell here as I have an article somewhere that explains the lateral stability issues of the Flyer in great detail. It has just been a while since I read it and my previous post had to be written from memory. But thanks for clearing that up!

The article also described a Qbasic program that models the Flyer's pitch stability and I've been playing with that and I must say that I cannot keep it in the air!

To me the fact that they corrected for these problems is another of the 'firsts' in their achievements. The way that the Wrights tackled the problem was a structured one: design, component tests, and a series of gliders and Flyers that evolved into an airplane that other people could learn to fly too! Too many others were single shot inventions. Good ideas that were tried, discounted and never seen again.

It still makes interesting reading all those years on!