Who was First?
Meanwhile, relations of Preston Watson of Dundee are calling for him to be recognised for his own airborne achievements over the Tay in the summer of 1903 – at least five months before the Wright brothers. “It was like a lot o’ bloomin’ old window blinds and sticks tied together,” recalled Harry Band, a farm labourer in 1955. Other witnesses described a propeller attached to the front.
It is thought that the craft was launched via a catapult. Watson released several weights, causing a rope-and-pulley arrangement to pull the craft along greased planks and up into the air. Watson went on to build two more planes, incorporating a “rocking wing” above the main rigid wing that could be used for steering. The design won a French safety award in 1913. Watson joined the RNAS and was killed in 1915 at the age of 34 when his biplane exploded over Essex.
Neither Bill Frost nor Preston Watson are mentioned in the Chronicle of Aviation. Additional information on these claims, or additional claims, would be much appreciated.
The above article first appeared in The Canadian Aerophilatelist for September ’99 and is reprinted here with permission of its editor Chris Hargreaves, with whom the Editor swaps copies of Orbit.
Any additional information that readers can contribute would be much appreciated.
(This is a report that was in the Irish Independent newspaper on 31-03-03)
Flying Kiwi had the Wright stuff
According to history, Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first powered flight above Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in December 1903.
But according to New Zealanders, nine months earlier, a Kiwi farmer, Richard Pearse, climbed into a bamboo monoplane and flew 150 metres before crashing into a gorse hedge on his Waitohi, South Island property.
The flight was witnessed by family members and a scattering of locals, but no documentary evidence has survived as Pearse kept no records.
A picture of his plane stuck in the hedge, taken by a local photographer, was lost in a flood.
Hospital records for a shoulder injury suffered in the crash were destroyed in a fire.
Nevertheless, New Zealanders say he has been deprived a place in the history books, and a group of aviation enthusiasts met at the weekend near Waitohi to celebrate the centenary of his flight on March 31,1903.
“He got airborne before the Wright brothers,” said his 83-year-old nephew, also called Richard Pearse, adding that his uncle’s ambition had been to fly to the town of Temuka, nine miles away to go shopping.
The Pearse devotees had made two replicas of his plane, which they tried to get airborne with the help of a modern microlite engine.
Many of the designs by Pearse, a self-taught aviator and inventor who was nicknamed “Mad Dick” and “Bamboo Pearse” by neighbours, proved ahead of their time, and aviation experts now say his plane bears a striking resemblance to modern microlites.