Well, did he or didn’t he?

Central Leader - - NEWS -

The ‘‘ was Richard Pearse the first man to fly?’’ de­bate goes on.

The lat­est off-beat facts – how typ­ists worked on the re­birth of one of his projects!

Tea­gle Smith re­mem­bers:

‘‘I was a first year en­gi­neer­ing ap­pren­tice with Air NZ in 1973 when the chair­man of Air NZ, Sir Ge­of­frey Roberts, was made pres­i­dent of IATA (the In­ter­na­tional Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion) and they ar­ranged the 20th AGM in Auck­land.

‘‘Air NZ wanted a cen­tre­piece for the meet­ing and Pearse’s third air­craft was iden­ti­fied as a wor­thy dis­play piece.

‘‘Fif­teen of us trooped out to Mo­tat and loaded the wreck on to a flatbed truck and moved it to the ap­pren­tice train­ing work­shop at Auck­land Air­port. There, with our newly taught skills and a bit of in­ge­nu­ity, we spent many months putting it back to­gether.

‘‘Girls from the head of­fice typ­ing pool were sent out to sew the fab­ric on only half the fuse­lage so a cut-away view showed off the con­struc­tion. (I can still pic­ture the typ­ists. I was 18 at the time.)

‘‘Af­ter re­plac­ing cogs, sprock­ets and bi­cy­cle chain, we got the engine and pro­pel­ler work­ing through its range of tilt and hor­i­zon­tal po­si­tion.

‘‘I spent many hours map­ping the ig­ni­tion sys­tem. From mem­ory, it has about 26 spark plugs and it seemed to run a pre­heater sys­tem that va­por­ised the low-cut fuel (maybe kero) be­fore in­duct­ing into the cylin­ders via a crude carb.

‘‘Hav­ing spent so much time restor­ing it, I’m not sure that it was ca­pa­ble of fly­ing.

‘‘But I am still in awe of the vi­sion that Pearse had to think up ideas and ac­tu­ally con­struct them into a con­cept that was not fully re­alised un­til years later with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, de­vel­op­ment and con­struc­tion meth­ods. ‘‘The guy was a le­gend.’’ From Jon Farmer: ‘‘In your col­umn, you list a num­ber of short quotes – mostly taken out of con­text – to cast doubt on Pearse’s claim to have flown.

‘‘How­ever, your state­ment that Pearse did not com­plete his ma­chine un­til af­ter World War I and there­fore those peo­ple who saw him fly in 1902-03 must be wrong, is down­right mis­lead­ing.

‘‘Richard Pearse built three air­craft, the first prob­a­bly didn’t fly but the sec­ond did, sev­eral times in1902-3, and this is doc­u­mented in Ge­off Rodliffe’s book Wings over Waitohi with state­ments taken from more than 35 wit­nesses backed up by school leav­ing cer­tifi­cates, me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal data, etc.

‘‘Those flights were only mea­sured in hun­dreds of yards and the al­ti­tude seems to have been de­fined by the 12 foot height of Richard’s untrimmed gorse hedges, where at least two of his flights seem to have ended. Not much by to­day’s stan­dards but re­mem­ber noone had ever been lifted off flat ground by an en­ginepow­ered ma­chine be­fore.

‘‘Richard Pearse’s third ma­chine in­cor­po­rated many ad­vanced fea­tures, some of which are in use to­day, like the ‘short take off sys­tem’ whereby the whole engine and pro­pel­ler can be tilted up at an an­gle to pro­vide both for­ward and ver­ti­cal thrust.

‘‘It took Richard 16 years to build dur­ing which time he also built three houses. This is the ma­chine in Mo­tat. It is un­likely that it ever flew.

‘‘At least three repli­cas of Pearse’s sec­ond air­craft have been built, Ivan Mu­drov­cich’s be­ing the lat­est, and al­though none have flown as yet, they are all in­tended to fly and thus add proof that Richard Pearse did fly be­fore the Wright broth­ers.’’

Sadly Pearse never was the first to fly. More than that he ac­tu­ally told us he never flew. Quoted in con­text from the copies of the Pearse doc­u­ments I now have and in last week’s col­umn: ‘‘I only built one aero­plane de­signed be­fore any­one had made a flight … to do the thing prop­erly I would have to make such ex­ten­sive al­ter­ations it prac­ti­cally amounted to build­ing a new ma­chine.

‘‘It is a case of two per­sons liv­ing on op­po­site sides of the world ar­riv­ing at the same con­clu­sions . . .’’

He went on: ‘‘I never flew with my first plane. Nei­ther the Wrights nor any­one else was suc­cess­ful with their first ma­chine.

‘‘But with my 60hp mo­tor which proved very re­li­able, I had aerial nav­i­ga­tion within my grasp, if I had had the pa­tience to de­sign a small plane that would be man­age­able.

‘‘I de­cided to give up the strug­gle as it was use­less to try to com­pete with men who had fac­to­ries at their backs.

‘‘As the Wrights were the first to make a suc­cess­ful flight in a mo­tor-driven aero­plane, they will be given pre­em­i­nence when the his­tory of the aero­plane is writ­ten.’’

Ge­orge Bolt found el­derly Waitohi Val­ley peo­ple who told him in 1956 they had seen Pearse in flight in early 1903 or heard about him in the air­craft fly­ing down a coun­try road, once land­ing on top of a high hedge.

But they were wrong, he con­cluded. ‘‘The ma­chine was not com­pleted un­til well af­ter World War I and was never ac­tu­ally flown.’’

Ge­orge Bolt’s qual­i­fi­ca­tions to make such a judg­ment: He’s a world-class avi­a­tion en­gi­neer who had worked on and pi­loted early air­craft for the pi­o­neer­ing Walsh broth- ers, and helped, for in­stance, in the de­sign of the Short fly­ing boats.

No-one would have wanted more than Ge­orge Bolt to prove Richard Pearse was the first to fly.

But if Pearse did fly first, why did he then so firmly deny him­self that de­served place in his­tory? Also in the mail­bag: Down to earth: ‘‘Your ear­lier reader was right. Trees and grassed ar­eas are like gold and should be the prior con­sid­er­a­tion in keep­ing Auck­land one of the most live­able places in the world.

‘‘There are many wasted ar­eas in the CBD which could be turned into sky­scrapers or as high as you like be­tween the her­itage build­ings which are be­ing put to good and at­trac­tive use in the Brit­o­mart area. Then off­set by keep­ing our green and leafy sub­urbs as much in­tact as pos­si­ble to add respite from the crush and traf­fic of the city.’’ – Anne Mur­ray, St He­liers

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