Gavin Thomas Nicol gtn at rbii.com
Thu Dec 18 11:26:03 PST 2003

On Thursday 18 December 2003 01:48 pm, Joseph S. Barrera III wrote:
> Gavin Thomas Nicol wrote:
> >  Richard Pearse beat them to it by 8 months, with a monoplane.
> How can you fail to mention the Ezekiel Airship?

...because I'm a kiwi :-)


Supposedly, Pearse also flew in March 1902, but the evidence is a little 

 For the best part of a century, the activities of Richard William Pearse 
(1877-1953) were largely unknown outside the small, close-knit, farming 
settlement of Waitohi, in the South Island of New Zealand, where he was born 
and where he flew his aircraft in the very early part of the 20'th century.

Yet this farmer's son, growing up and living far removed from the rest of the 
world, dedicated his lifetime's energies to inventing things mechanical 
including the designing and building of a suitable combustion engine and 
three aircraft, in the first of which he would make a number of short 
pioneering flights.

Yet he was compelled to work mostly in secret in order to avoid those who 
opposed him on religious grounds, and others who claimed that he was a 
lunatic in his attempts to build a flying machine.

His achievements were even more remarkable in that, unlike the Wright Brothers 
who employed skilled engineers and who later enjoyed the luxury of American 
Government sponsorship, Pearse designed, financed, and built everything 
himself. And he did not even have access to a university or library, but 
gained his knowledge solely through reading the magazines that he subscribed 

The years 1902/1903 date his achieving the world's very first mechanically 
powered flight(s). Dating suggest a first flight on 31st March, 1902 - the 
day before April fools day. Corroborated eyewitness accounts from school 
children at the time and in their 70/80s when interviewed, together with 
other somewhat conclusive evidence from the local school records, confirm 
that at least one of his powered flights took place on 31'st March 1903. And 
there were numerous other trials taking place both before and after that. His 
most active flying year was obviously 1903. The dates are mentioned in Geoff 
Rodliffe's publications below. 

Usually Pearse taxied and 'flew' his aircraft using his own or a neighbour's 
paddock. However if the paddocks were wet this made such use impossible, and 
Pearse would use the road running past the school and his farm.

Other evidence points to him flying in the winter of 1903 - specifically on 
the 10'th of July, 1903, just a few months before the Wrights' first flight. 
(Note: the seasons are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere). Apparently the 
plane 'landed' on top of one of the many 12ft. high, mainly uncut, box-thorn 
or gorse hedges surrounding the paddocks in the neighbourhood. He then left 
it there because of a heavy fall of snow. Meteorological records for that 
time show that snow fell on the 11'th of July 1903, but that there was no 
snow during any of the years immediately before or after that date.

In his later trials he used a small hillock to take off from and flew over a 
30ft. high river terrace to 'land' on the mostly dried up river bed below - 
see photo. From eye-witness reports, the lengths of his flights have been 
estimated to have varied between 50ft. and a quarter of a mile.

However it was some fifty years later that investigators were alerted to 
Pearse's flying activities by the discovery of a roughly constructed 
'utility' aeroplane, his third, which never flew but which contained 
remarkably innovative features, which was found hidden in his work shed after 
he had died.

Subsequent searches of the area then discovered some remains of his earlier 
aircraft which had been thrown onto a rubbish dump in the mostly dried up 
river bed where he had last landed almost fifty years before.

These included engine cylinders, a cast iron piston, and a propeller.

Here is the late George Bolt with items recovered by him.

Then in the mid-1970s, a replica of his 1902/3 aircraft with its unique engine 
was constructed and exhibited at MOTAT, and then went on tour throughout New 
Zealand - see photo at top of page.

It was also exhibited at the Vancouver Expo. '86 - see photo on right. To get 
it to Canada, it was dismantled and carried in the cargo hold of a Boeing 

In 1974 the NZBC was involved in the making of a documentary film entitled 
"Richard Pearse." Whilst this turned out to be rather less than the hoped for 
historic record, it did serve to bring Pearse's achievements to the attention 
of the N.Z. populace at large.

For one scene a shaft-horse was supposed tow Pearse's first aircraft into a 
position for a simulated take-off using the replica. Unfortunately however 
the animal stamped heavily on the foot of the actor leading it and then 
galloped off across the paddock, fortunately straight into a 10 mph wind. 
Whilst everyone watched in horror the replica took off quite normally and 
rose as far as the towrope would allow. It then stalled and nose-dived into 
the ground. The stability was remarkable and it lifted off with no tendency 
to roll. Luckily its bamboo frame was resilient and little actual damage was 
done. During this episode, which was watched by a number of spectators 
including four professional cameramen and five or six amateurs holding movie 
cameras, no-one had the presence of mind to pull the trigger; thus the most 
spectacular event of that day went unrecorded!!

In 1980 the replica was subjected to wind-tunnel tests at Auckland University, 
which confirmed that indeed it was possible for such a machine to have been 
capable of flying much like a microlight of today.

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