Who was First?
I asked Alex for the source of his information, and he replied:
Some time ago I had Czar’s observers he apparently flew for 7 minutes.
The time was supposed to have been noted by one of those observers, Nataliy Perkov, although no other controls or continuations were given.
Moshaiski incidentally was at the time the Head of the Department of “Flying Machine Development” with the Russian War Ministry.
This is the sum total of the information I have, although I could find out the address of the Library.
I cannot give you any reasons for this event not having been mentioned elsewhere, but it might have something to do with few people mastering the Cyrillic alphabet. I am afraid this is all I can tell you, but thank you again for referring to this interesting subject.
3rd The Follow up: Who was the first man to fly?
After examining the claims of a Aleksander Moshaiski, (a Russian), and Richard Pearce, (a New Zealander), in our last newsletter, I received the following claim from Mike Shand that a Scot was the first man to fly:
Everything in history of any importance happened first in Scotland. In Scotland, a man conquered the air. Percy Pilcher flew.
Certainly, he died young. He died in the air. Young Percy Pilcher knew that a man could take off in a heavier-than-air machine, and he did it. He was a humble worker on the staff of the naval architecture department of Glasgow University, and he knew that man could and would fly. He thought up, and made with his own bands, the machine that Leonardo da Vinci had dreamed of and never quite managed. Percy built a glider, and it worked.
He knew it would work. He was a Scot who worked out the snags, and circumvented them. Another thing nobody knows is that this young man solved problems that would not arise until decades after his death. The undercarriages of modern intercontinental aeroplanes are based on his predictions. He thought of shock-absorbing springs. He thought of nearly everything. And he flew.
Pilcher piloted the first heavier-than-air, man-operated machine that ever took off the ground in Britain. It was his own handiwork. He got into the driving seat and flew this thing, beautifully. The system of launching gliders and sailplanes has not changed much since he worked it out before the turn of the century. It is all his.
Pilcher (the name does not sound excessively Scottish, but Scotland is where he was, and where he did it) first took a kind of aeroplane off the ground near Dumbarton in the year 1895. Four years later, in 1899, he got ambitious. He fitted a petrol engine to one of his machines and invented the powered aeroplane. It got off the ground, several years before Wilbur and Orville Wright.
The end is a sad story. Percy took a powered machine into the air. It worked. A control wire broke. The machine turned upside down and crashed to earth. It was destroyed, along with the pilot-designer.
It would be four years before the Wright brothers, who had never heard of Percy Pilcher, or maybe they had, took their little machine into the air and imagined they had invented the aviation industry. There is no need to steal the glory from Wilbur and Orville. They did it; and they didn’t get killed. Three cheers for the Wright brothers Four for Percy Pilcher.
This is reproduced from The Scots by Clifford Hanley. – Mike said he picked it up for 50 cents at a garage sale, and although he has no way of knowing the true facts, “the rest of the book is an accurate, if lighthearted, review of events and people in Scottish history”. However, according to the Chronicle of Aviation, Pilcher was demonstrating a glider when he crashed.
I also received via Dick Malott the following clipping from L.F. Gillam. It’s from an English newspaper The Sunday Telegraph (August 1st 1999), and mentions two other claims for the title of ‘FIRST MAN TO FLY’:
Claims have recently been advanced for flights of heavier-than-air craft before the Wright brothers on December 17, 1903. The latter probably became accepted as the first flight because the airborne craft was photographed.
In the summer of 1896, a 48-year-old Welsh carpenter called Bill Frost took to the skies over Pembrokeshire. Frost had received a patent for his 31ft craft, somewhere between a glider and an airship, in 1895. It was propelled upwards by two handcranked fans and kept aloft by hydrogen-filled pouches.
According to a neighbour of Frost’s, the flight ended when the undercarriage caught in a tree after flying 500 to 600 yards. and the craft was damaged irreparably in a storm later that year. The filed patent is the only existing documentation of the flight. An engineer in Minnesota plans to build a replica for a test flight.