Who was First?
Was a New Zealander the first man to fly?
Was Aleksander Moshaiski the first man to fly?
Maybe it was a Scot or a Welsh man?
1st The New Zealander
Postmarked: PHILATELIC BUREAU WANGANUI NZ. FIRST DAY OF ISSUE 16 MAY 1990. Apparently so, according to the above cover, which states:
RICHARD PEARSE – ON 31 MARCH 1902, PEARSE WAS THE FIRST PERSON TO UNDERTAKE A POWERED FLIGHT, APPROXIMATELY 1.2km
However, according to The History of New Zealand Aviation by Ross Ewing and Ross McPherson, it seems unlikely that Richard Pearce really did beat the Wright Brothers into the air by over a year:
Richard Pearse was born on 3 December 1877, the fourth of nine children. He grew up on the family farm, and at the age of 21 was given a farm of forty acres close to the family homestead. However, he was more interested in engineering projects than farming, and his farm was a byword for neglect in the neighbourhood.
In 1902 Pearse patented a new type of bicycle which included a number of novel ideas: “a vertical or reciprocating pedal action, a system of gears, a back-wheel rim brake, and integral tyre pumps to enable the rider to pump up the tyres while traveling”.
Pearse had begun thinking about aerial navigation around 1899. He built an aircraft “very much in the form of today’s microlites. Equipped with three wheels in a tricycle configuration, a wood and metal-tube framework supported the engine and wing mounted above the pilot’s head as he sat on a bicycle saddle ‘inside’ the fuselage frame.
A propeller was mounted directly onto the engine’s driveshaft above and forward of the pilot”. Pearse also built his own engine! – A two cylinder engine, built from “30 Centimetre lengths of 10 Centimetre-diameter steel irrigation pipes”, that was “capable of around 15 horsepower” (The Wright brother’s 1903 flights were powered by a 12-horsepower engine.)
Pearse then proceeded to test his invention, but dating these tests has proved extremely difficult, as aviation historians did not become aware of his work until after his death in 1953.
In a test flight that is sometimes dated as occurring on 31st March 1902, but also dated by one of the witnesses as having occurred in April 1903, Pearse “took off downhill from a 12 metre high terrace beside the Opihi River and turning right, travelled up river for about half a kilometre before landing in the river”. Some researchers argue that this was a “powered, sustained and controlled flight”, but others disagree, since the aircraft was descending throughout the flight!
In 1906 Pearse filed a patent for “An Improved Aerial or Flying Machine”. He continued his flying experiments until 19I3 but most of the “flights” described by witnesses fifty years later, seem to have been from 10 to 50 metres in distance, and several ended in crashes. Pearse then seems to have turned his attention to more rural-based inventions, including a top-dressing machine, an automatic potato planter. and a motorised plough.
In I923 Pearse turned his interest back to aviation, and started work on a “Utility Plane” that could take-off from confined spaces. His prototype was tested in the mid-1930’s, “tethered to the ground”. His final design. which involved a high-wing monoplane with a tilting engine to enable vertical take-offs and hovering, was patented in Australia and New Zealand in 1949. In 1950 he wrote to various aircraft manufacturers, but none of them were interested in his “convertiplane”.
Pearce was admitted to Sunnyside Psychiatric Hospital in 1951, and died there on July 29th 1953. The prototype of his “convertiplane” was consigned to a rubbish tip, but was rescued by a member of the Canterbury Aero Club, and triggered the research into his earlier experiments.