View Full Version : 364 days to go !

Sir George Cayley
16th Dec 2002, 22:06
Today, Tuesday 17th December 2002 is the 99th anniversary of manís first powered controlled flight.

According to the Smithsonian Institute at 10.53 EST Orville Wright made that now legendary 120í flight lasting all of twelve seconds. Supporters of Gustave Whitehead in the States and Richard William Pearse in New Zealand look away now.

As we approach 2003, The Centennial Year of Flight, each time we take off in whatever machine we commit aviation, if weíre not too busy, we should tip our cap to the brothers Wright and all the other early pioneers.

It is an amazing thing this world we call flying. A diverse space that satisfies so many needs. Every time I emerge above the clouds Iím again at home in world still many do not know. How many jobs can offer such a rich tapestry of emotions? Where in the 21st century can one find so many people with common purpose?

As the first person in Britain to employ a pilot, my footman who flew the Cayley Glider across Brompton Vale in 1853, Iím well aware of industrial relations problems: he quit immediately thereafter. So itís sad to see so much uncertainty still looming across many aspects of the industry.

Nevertheless we have much to be proud of. So next time your are in the cruise reflect on how far aviation has come in less than a century, take pleasure in occupying the best seats in the house and this year of all years -Dont do nothing dumb!

Sir George Cayley - The father of Aeronautics

The air is a navigable ocean that laps at everyones door

Mods - 24 hours here pls?

16th Dec 2002, 23:54
The 100 years of powered flight was earlier this year - 31-3-02.
Richard Pearse flew 350 yards a hundred years ago on that date. About a year later he flew about 1,000 yards, including two turns and mostly out of ground effect. All done months before the Wright Brothers otherwise good effort.

Colonel Klink
17th Dec 2002, 07:46

so where is the documented proof, your suggestions fly in the face of history as this geezer and his flight go largely unrecorded!! Why has this taken 99 years to come out?? Why have you never tried harder to have this fact better known? I've been an aviation historiian for 20 years and have never even heard of him. Why does some tosser always come out of the woodwork at occasions like this to spoil a momentus event and claim the Wright Bros record as his own!!! What else did he do in aviation afterwards? Photo's and more details (if possible) please!!:mad:
I for one will be celebrating on the 17th December, next year as 100 years since the first official flight by a man powered aircraft!!!!

17th Dec 2002, 08:00
The Wrights used a catapult...who was the first to get airborne purely using the power of the engine on the aircraft?

17th Dec 2002, 08:25
18 wheeler, actually, Richard Pearse first got airborne on the 31st March 1903 but that still pre-dates the Wright Brothers.

Richard Pearse: "Mad Pearse", "Bamboo Dick", self-taught inventor, prophetic designer, trail blazing aviator and eccentric visionary. On or about 31st March 1903 a reclusive New Zealand farmer Richard Pearse climbed into a self-built monoplane and flew for about 140 metres before crashing into a gorse hedge on his Waitohi property . Even at half the distance Pearse must have felt the liberating but anxious exhilaration of flying. There is uncertainty about whether it met the definitions of sustained flight, but it came eight months before the Wright Brothers entered the record books at Kitty Hawk North Carolina on 17th December 1903.

Colonel Klink, you might like to have a read of Pearse's biography at: http://www.nzedge.com/heroes/pearse.html.

Amazon man
17th Dec 2002, 08:30

You are wrong the Wright Brothers did not use a catapult, the launching system consisted of a 60ft track made of pine. The main weight of the aeroplane rested in a small "dolly" or truck which ran along the rail, the Wright Flyer did not have any wheels just sledge-like landing skids.

On the day the wind was about 22-27 mph and although a wire was realeased which had been holding it to the track, the Wright flyer moved along the track for about forty feet under its own power before getting airborne.

Not only the first powered flight but perhaps the first STOL as well with a takeoff of only 40 ft.

17th Dec 2002, 10:49
No, Hotdog, it was definitely 1902 - It was researched extensively by Geoffory Rodliffe in NZ and that's the date that was determined.

Klink, fortunately what you think isn't important. Pearse did all that and more. Your ignorance is not my fault.

The African Dude
17th Dec 2002, 11:00

grow up!!!

who gives a toss about technicalities. some prat always has to argue.

:mad: :mad:


You want it when?
17th Dec 2002, 12:44
FWIW - I'm with Klink here, maybe Pearse did it first but I've never heard of the "Pearse Flyer". For most of the century it's been pretty much accepted from photos, development etc.. that the Wright brothers were first to powered, sustained manned flight.

Of course naff all important ever happens in the Southern Hemisphere so if the denizens there can see the chance to catch some reflected or stolen glory then they go for it.

"Ra Ra Pearse" happy now 18-Wheeler?

17th Dec 2002, 13:09
No, not with the history books being incorrect I'm not actually.

Philip Whiteman
17th Dec 2002, 13:44
Amazon man: that dolly used cycle hubs as wheels ó so the Flyer sort of had wheels, wouldn't you agree?

The African Dude: who gives a toss about technicalities? Any aviation enthusiast or historian with half a brain, I would have said.

I too grow tired of all the silly stories about people who beat the Wrights to sustained, controlled, powered flight. Use a lax defintion of flight, and any half-arsed pile of garbage with a motor that jumped up over a bump in the ground, fell off a ramp or simply blew away in the wind 'flew'.

The Wrights were not cranky gentleman inventors, they were ENGINEERS of the highest inspiration and ability. Show me some one else who built a wind tunnel, tested aerofoils, measured lift and drag, broke all the world's gliding records, determined how much power was need to sustain flight, designed propellers from first principles and worked out a functional control system ó all before his or her 'first flight', and I will drop dead with surprise.

The Wrights did all these things, that is why they are regarded as heroes and so many other 'first flight' claimants are rightly dimissed as fakes, charlatans and dolts...

How can you understand any of this without comprehending the technicalties?

Big Tudor
17th Dec 2002, 14:59
I think the key word is 'controlled' flight. Don't think Mr Pearse's crash into a hedge after 140 yds could be classified as controlled.

17th Dec 2002, 15:24
Well, I will happily drink to both Mr Pe arse and the Wrights on their respective aniversaries together with anybody else who gives me an excuse to be a pe arse! :D

Sir George Cayley
17th Dec 2002, 15:47
As usual intemperate language invades an otherwise moderate post designed to mark an internationally historic day.

It is clear that there was a race going on around the turn of the century and the Wrights won.

I have a feeling thatmany people stumbled momentarily into the air around this time - Chanute maybe and others. But the Wrights were able to replicate their feat over and over again. They flew several times on the 17th.

A bit of debate with some passion yes but Gentlemen in good spirit please

Sir George Cayley

The air is anavigable ocean that laps at everyones door

Iron City
17th Dec 2002, 16:56
Don't think Chanute stumbled into the air, he did engineering and organizing but was well past the time to be flying the machines. Though he did show up at experimental activities and helped physically he also contracted with people to build flying machines or pieces thereof with very uneven results.

PODNOCKER may have seen pictures from 1904 in Dayton Ohio where the brothers did use a dropping weight to catapult their aircraft. Reason for this was practical, they didn't have the wind over the deck they had at Kitty Hawk and didn't have a runway. Also believe there were some airfoil or powerplant problems initially. There is still and motion picture photography of The Brothers flying an airplane at Dayton doing a closed course, turns about a point, figure eights, etc. It that isn't controlled flight I'll eat it.

17th Dec 2002, 23:11
Big Tudor, how about Pearse's flight on 11-5-1903, where he flew about 1,000 yards, made two turns, and flew for a fair while out of ground effect.
That doesn't sound uncontrolled to me. Sounds pretty much like sustained controlled powered flight.

True enough his first decent flight was nothing special, only about 350 yarsds (not 140 yards, Rodliffe & Bolt got more reliable reports at between 300 - 400 yards, so I split the difference and call it 350 yards) but impressive none the less.
He had no idea that his efforts were significant, so he didn't bother to record anything on film or make any special effort to gather people around to watch. He was only satisfying his only technical curisosity.

18th Dec 2002, 04:03
Philip Whiteman, you say Show me some one else who built a wind tunnel, tested aerofoils, measured lift and drag, broke all the world's gliding records, determined how much power was need to sustain flight, designed propellers from first principles and worked out a functional control system ó I think his name was Lawrence Heargreaves, and and I think even the Wright brothers biographers acknowledge that he carried out an active correspondence with Ollie and Willie, trading theories and information with them - before Dec 17th, 1903.

Oh, and he hailed from the Southern Hemisphere too - from the 'main island', as many New Zealanders know the big lump pf red dirt to the far west of Auckland.

Barry Jones, in his excellent book 'Sleepers Awake", uses Pearse as the prime example of the crippling Australian 'cultural cringe' - ie, when Pearse did something that had never been done anywhere else in the world before, it was roundly ignored (or debunked) by all and sundry in Aust (and NZ) "because if it hadn't been done overseas already, it mustn't be very important" and "if it had been done overseas, they must be doing it better, so why bother with it here?" (Which was aparently Pearse's attitude when he hard about the Wright Brothers' flight.)

This attitude has pervaded the upper circles of society and government 'Downunda' for decades.

I don't downplay the tremendous feats of the Brothers Wright - but those quick to poh hooh Pearse's exploits would do well to look beyond their blinkered horizons for a moment and accept that maybe there is some basis to the claims made on his behalf.

18th Dec 2002, 07:05
Some further information which appears to have eluded Colonel Klink's research:

"A question often asked is: "Did this man, a farmer's son with no technical training and with severely limited facilities and funds, really succeed where so many others had failed?" The proof can be seen in the advanced design of his engines and aircraft, which had many original features not then found elsewhere; and although many of his ideas were never developed to their full extent nevertheless his engine produced more than adequate power for the purpose of getting his plane airborne. The motor car did not appear in his locality until some years after Pearse had built and run his petrol engine; his design was based on the steam engines and early oil engines in use in the district, supplemented by information gathered from engineering books...

It is probably now impossible to establish without doubt if Pearse flew before the Wright Brothers. However, there is no doubt that Pearse's definition of flying was far more rigorous than that of the Wright Brothers, and that flights he made prior to the Wright's attempts were never classified by himself as, "actually flying". Pearse invented the aileron and variable pitch air-screw many years ahead of others researching control surfaces".

Richard Pearse (http://www.destination.co.nz/temuka/pearse.htm)

A further long discussion is to be found at the following link:-
AvStop Research (http://avstop.com/History/AroundTheWorld/NewZ/research.html)

For those to whom the name of Richard Pearse is unfamiliar, the following link provides a balanced assessment of his achievements:-
MOTAT (http://chrisbrady.itgo.com/pearse/pearse.htm)

This link provides information from a relative of Richard Pearse:-
First Flight? (http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2002/08/22/richard_pearse/print.html)

And by request of the author:-

The Author (http://www.billzilla.org/pearce.htm)

For even more references Copernic <www.copernic.com>
and Google <www.google.com> will provide a multitude, making it that much easier for 'historians' to keep abreast.:D

On a different note, yesterday was the 67th anniversary of the first flight of possibly THE most important aeroplane yet: the immortal DC-3.:)

18th Dec 2002, 07:48
Whatever the debate, next December will be a great time to celebrate and ponder all that aviation has brought us (yeah I know, bad as well as good). For myself, I'd like to be at Kittyhawk next year. Preferably flying to it (wx permitting).

Does anyone have links for nearest airfield, town, accommodation, etc or is it all booked up already?

18th Dec 2002, 10:44
HectorusRex, please add my own page to your list.

18th Dec 2002, 15:03
Given that the Montgolfier balloon pre-dated all of them by some 120 years, it's all a bit moot.

It might not have been fully-directional, but the damn thing still needed SOME sort of power to get airborne.

B0LL0X to the American and Kiwi claims, the Europeans were airborne long before the lot of 'em...

(Insert 'two fingers' smilie here)

Iron City
18th Dec 2002, 20:04
Poet: closest airfield is First Flight Airport about 1000 yards from the reconstructed Wright camp. single paved runway about 3500' as I recall and a parking ramp. No fuel or service. radio is Unicom. Whole thing is a national monument. Closest real airport is Manteo North Carolina, Dare County Airport.

I resolve to not get into a who was first argument with anybody.
The Wright's engine was built by Charlie Taylor and was a fairly crude affair, but provided enough power for the purpose. The Wrights developed the equations for propellers from empirical data they collected themselves after finding there wasn't much theoretical information available on propellers, which suprised them. They also figured out that a propeller is a turning airfoil and that the same laws of physics apply.

And don't call them Ollie and Willie. Orville was Orville or Orv, Wilbur was Wilbur or Wil.

18th Dec 2002, 22:26
M. Ader in France managed to get a machine off the ground under its own power well before the Wrights, but hardly controllable. IMO, whether or not the Wrights were first off the ground, the important thing is that they perfected a control system that allowed frequent routine flights, of very considerable duration, well before anyone else. They weren't very seriously challenged for close to 5 years. Unfortunately for them, they rested on their laurels, and fell behind after that.

19th Dec 2002, 02:29
18wheeler, not that it matters a great deal but somebody's history is obviously askew.

However, as Pearseís biographer Gordon Ogilvie, points out, "Ö a great deal of eyewitness testimony, able to be dated circumstantially, suggests that 31 March 1903 was the likely date of this first flight attempt." One or two eyewitnesses have mentioned the date of March 1902 as the first take-off date, but with all surviving witnesses now dead and no extant documentary evidence, the claims are likely to remain unproven

Incidentaly, the plaque at Auckland International Airport in Pearse's honour, also quotes March 31, 1903 as the date he became airborne. Cheers, HD.

19th Dec 2002, 05:30
I still say 1902, because of the research Bolt & Rodliffe did in the 50's & 60's I think. They interviewed all the survivors that actually saw him fly, and from their descriptions of the weather of that period it was not 1903 recorded weather. The 1902 weather fitted the reports exactly.

20th Dec 2002, 01:31
Regardless of whether Pearse made the first flight, IMHO it is the effects of what the Wrights achieved that made it a major event in world history.

What happened at Kitty Hawk in 1903 provided an impetus in the development of aviation in terms of investment and enthusiasm, right around the world. Pearses flight did not "reverberate" around the world in the way that the Wrights flight did.

This to me is what makes their achievement something for the history books and why I will celebrate the centenary with great joy.

t'aint natural
20th Dec 2002, 19:14
You're all wrong.
As every Russian schoolchild is taught, the first aviator was a Russian - whose name momentarily escapes me. But his feat predated that of the Wrights by more than ten years, comrades.

Lu Zuckerman
20th Dec 2002, 22:14
A major segment of the ground crew that assisted in the flight were members of the Life Saving Service which is now a part of the US Coast Guard.


t'aint natural
21st Dec 2002, 22:29
The clincher in this is the fact that not only did the Wrights fly first - despite the claims of literally hundreds of others from Pearse to Clement Ader - but that for two and a half years, they remained the only pilots in the world.
After 'perfecting' the machine back in Dayton, they crated it up and attempted to start a worldwide bidding war for it. In 1905 and 1906 many more people, from Ernest Archdeacon to Augustus Herring, claimed to have built and flown aircraft, but all their claims were proven to be false. It was not until Wilbur Wright's flights in Le Mans in late 1908 (and Orville's simultaneous show at Arlington) that controlled flight at will was publicly demonstrated, and the Wrights were hailed for what they are.

22nd Dec 2002, 01:36
The clincher in this is the fact that not only did the Wrights fly first

No true - Other people flew before the Wrights in powered aeroplanes, but only one is certain to have done anything more than a very brief hop is Pearse.
It was still well over a year before the Wrights matched Pearse's 1,000 yard flight in May 1903.

Lu Zuckerman
22nd Dec 2002, 02:23
I never heard of Pearse State University in Dayton, Ohio or Pearse-Patterson Air Force base also in Dayton, Ohio or even Cutiss-Pearse engines. New Zealandís' claim for the record is 100 years too late. Why didn't they make the claim when it happened?

Just wondering.


22nd Dec 2002, 04:30
As has been explained, he didn't bother with photos & so on because he didn't think or more importantly realise how historical the event was.
If only he'd taken a photo then the history books would all be correct.

22nd Dec 2002, 09:08
Whenever this topic comes up, someone (usually, by pure coincidence no doubt, a Kiwi) trots out the "Pearse did it first" argument. Accepting, for the sake of argument, that Pearse made a flight which could merit the descriptions "sustained and controlled", on what basis does this qualify him as the originator of powered flight? Can anyone other than a zealot argue that Pearse developed a practical flying machine? Are modern aircraft descended from his machine? Did he not only systematically research the problem of controlled powered flight (building on the work of others together with his own inventive processes) but also document his research and demonstrate before expert audiences the repeatable success of his designs?

Although we are romantically attached to commemorative dates, and so choose 17 December 2003 as the birth date of the aeroplane, no one suggests that the Wrights had achieved a truly practical flying machine by that date, but within a few years they had done this, and had left their competitors trailing far behind, as the French pioneers who saw the Wrights demonstrating circuits admitted.

Are the Pearse fans interested in engaging with these arguments, rather than simply saying repeatedly "he did it first he did it first he did it first he did it first" which, even if true, proves nothing.

22nd Dec 2002, 10:41
Are the Pearse fans interested in engaging with these arguments, rather than simply saying repeatedly "he did it first he did it first he did it first he did it first" which, even if true, proves nothing.

FNG, it proves this argument. It doesn't matter who got the official sanction for the feat. Pearse was still the first one to achieve it.

Same as Stan Barrett on Dec 17, 1979 the 76th anniversary of the Wright Brothers flight at Kitty Hawk, broke the sound barrier in a land vehicle at 739.66mph. As he ran out of fuel and couldn't repeat his feat within one hour, the FAI couldn't sanction this record.

Andy Green claimed the official record somewhat later, by going through the sound barrier twice within one hour at the prevailing conditions, at a speed of 717.144mph, exceeding Mach1.

By the way, I am not a Kiwi.

22nd Dec 2002, 20:39
For Lou, FNG and others, several links have been provided to enable those who choose to make the effort and follow them, which try to put Pearse's efforts into perspective.

Pearse made no personal claims to have made the first

Historians have subsequently included his feats as being worthy of consideration as being one of the first to get airborne, under power, and the dates precede the first recorded flight of the Wright Brothers.

In addition, for Lou's benefit, Richard Pearse, unlike the Wright brothers, designed and built his own engine.
He also developed the conventional aileron, well advanced on the wing warping system used on the Wright Flyer, and amongst other inventions he also invented a variable pitch propellor.

I had the pleasure of knowing a nephew of Richard Pearse; one George Gault who was an ex WWll RNZAF navigator, and when I met him, owned and ran a bookshop in Wellington, NZ.
His assessment was that his Uncle was eccentric, reclusive, and probably the author of his own misfortunes.

George is probably no longer with us, having long since retired, and thus not likely to be in a position to enlighten us further.:)

Kermit 180
23rd Dec 2002, 00:19
I've done some research on Richard Pearse as a result of this thread. Here's what I found out:

It is believed Richard Pearse began development of his first aeroplane in 1899. He used a home-made 15-hp engine using lengths of 4 inch diameter steel irrigation pipe and spark plugs made from metal scraps scavenged from a local rubbish dump. Pearse built a lathe, also created from parts salvaged from the rubbish dump, and constructed his aeroplane. The end product was akin to today's microlights, and even had a steerable nose wheel. The aeroplane featured all control surfaces that we today consider conventional. The propellor was mounted directly to the engine crank shaft, rendering gearing and clutches unnecessary.

In 1902 (the exact date is uncertain), Pearse attempted his first flight. Witness account of this flight:

Pearse took off downhill from a 12 metre high terrace beside Pohihi river and turning right, travelling half a kilometre up river before landing in a river bed.

Others described the flight as a powered glide with the aeroplane descending all the time.

Pearse himself never recognised this event as meeting the criteria for sustained controlled flight; it is interesting that Pearse never recognised the Wright Brothers' effort either.

In March 1903, Pearse rolled a new aeroplane onto the main road at Waitohi opposite a school house, started the engine then climbed into position. The aeroplane lifted into the air, past the high gorse hedges of his neglected farm, all without the aid of rails, ramps, or catapults. The aeroplane flew 46 metres in a time of 5 seconds before landing, ironically, in one of his over grown gorse hedges. Again Pearse declined to accept this as sustained controlled flight.

In June and July 1903, Pearse made other small 'hops' and in 1906 created a more powerful aeroplane. During military service in Europe in 1917 he conceived the idea of a a STOL machine, and in the 1940's, he designed, patented, and built such a machine. It failed to get the recognition it deserved, and the project failed.

Pearse built many innovative inventions apart from his aeroplanes, including a bicycle with vertical pedals (minimising a los of energy associated with circulating pedals), various engines including those used in his flying machines, a top dressing machine, a device for moulding turnips and potatoes, an automatic potato planter, a motorised plough, a hydroelectric power generator, and a home built motorbike. He also built three houses in Christchurch without the aid of calculations or rulers.

Richard Pearse committed himself into sunnyside Psychatric hospital in 1951, where he died in obscurity in 1953 aged 75.

Whether or not Pearse did beat the Wright Brothers into the air for controlled sustained flight (which he freely admitted he did not), in his home country New Zealand, this man is a pioneer legend who conceived inventions and aviation feats well ahead of his time. No-one, not even those who defend the Wright Brothers claims from those made belatedly on behalf of the lonely, eccentric farmer from Temuka, can take this away.

Merry Christamas and happy holidays,


23rd Dec 2002, 01:09
Those dates are a bit out.
The most accurate ones can be found in the Rodliffe books, which are generally not reproduced on the internet. I got the authors permission to do that though.
Rodliffe interviewed as many people as he could to get the information, checked the old newspapers, etc.
The dates & distances he came up with are -
- Various non-powered flight, usually horse-drawn, between 1899 and 1902.
- 31-3-1902. A flight off level ground of between 300 and 400 yards, ending in a gorse hedge.
- March 1903. A similar flight of about 150 yards.
2-5-1903 Distance unknown, but the plane was stuck in a hedge 15' above the ground.
- 11-5-1903. The 1,000 yard flight, out of ground effect & including two turns.
- 10-7-1903 Again, distance unknown, but the aircraft was (yet again!) stuck in a hedge many feet above the ground until the snow melted some time later.
If you check out my tribute page, you can see the path of the 1,000 yard flight down the river bed.