Who was First?
Although Pearse may not have been the “first man to fly”, it is quite remarkable that working in almost complete isolation, he came as close to success as he did!!!
Thanks to Mike Shand and Alan Tunnicliffe for this information on Richard Pearce. [Copies of the cover above can be purchased from: Alan Tunnicliffe, Air Mail Society of New Zealand, P0 Box 29144, Fendalton, Christchurch, New Zealand, for $3NZ / $3 Canadian / $2US (including postage): payment can be made by mint stamps or banknotes.]
Approximate arrangement of Pearse’s first aircraft, prepared from information in his 1906 Patent Application.
2nd Aleksander Moshaiski
Scott #4276, from the Russian Aircraft History series, 25th December 1974.(SG4357)
Although the Wright Brothers are generally considered the first men to have made a POWERED, SUSTAINED, AND CONTROLLED FLIGHT IN A HEAVIER-THAN-AIR MACHINE, this title has been claimed by (and for) various other pioneers in the past, and from time to time new findings revive some of these claims.
In the November 1997 issue of the F.I.S.A. Bulletin, Alex Newall commented that Aleksander Moshaiski had built “a contraption which could fly carrying a man”, and that this machine “completed a successful flight on 1st August 1882”.
This stimulated an examination of the achievements of Aleksander Moshaiski in our September 1998 newsletter. Patrick Campbell provided a summary of the information in V.B. Shavrov’s book ‘History of Aircraft Design in the USSR’, which includes several eye-witness accounts of Moshaiski’s experiment. According to this book:
Aleksander Moshaiski was a Russian naval officer of private means. In 1878 he presented calculations and designs to the War Ministry for a full size flying machine to carry a man. In 1880 he was given permission to travel abroad, and given 2,500 roubles to purchase two steam engines from England, one of 10 HP and one of 20 HP. He requested another 5,000 roubles in June of 1881 but the Czar turned him down, so he decided to fund it himself.
The machine was built by the Baltiisky factory, and in the summer of 1882 he was assigned a military field in Krasnoje Selo, near St. Petersburg.
Construction was of wood, steel, silk fabric, and various commercially available materials. Weight was supposed to be 2,058 pounds, but this was an underestimate. The final weight with pilot and fuel, reached some 3,611 pounds.
Moshaiski delegated the flight test to his coachman. The launch was accomplished with the machine on a trolley, running down a ramp, some time in the autumn of 1884. The contraption got into the air for a moment when a spar fractured, causing the machine to roll over and slide to a halt.
When repaired, the machine was fitted with three of the 20 HP engines, which still achieved only a ratio of 60 pounds per horsepower. Moshaiski died in 1890, while still trying to increase the available power.
Alex Newall gave additional information in the June 1999 F.I.S.A. Bulletin, where he commented:
The September issue of the Canadian Aerophilatelist referred to a story about Aleksander Feodorowitch Moshaiski which appeared in this Bulletin in November 1997 and gave a much more detailed account of his life and work. There are only a few points we would like to underline without questioning the most interesting story provided by Patrick Campbell:
Moshaiski was certainly instrumental in the creating of a special Department in the Imperial War Ministry to study the development of flying machines. He certainly obtained a patent for such a machine on 4th June 1880, a machine he built with the Czar’s money and used in a successful flight during manoeuvres at Krasnoje Selo on 1st August 1882. He flew for seven minutes and damaged his elbow on landing.
We saw no mention of a coachman in the records in Moscow’s Russian Technical Society. All the same the craft was seriously underpowered.
This information would certainly make Aleksander Moshaiski the “first man to fly”, yet the Russian books, or commemorative stamps, do not seem to make that claim for him.