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Mon, Mar 31, 2003

Almost Forgotten: 'Mad' Richard Pearse

Should Centennial of Flight Celebration be Held in New Zealand, Today?

On the South Island of New Zealand, on March 31, 1903, Richard Pearse, they say, made a powered flight of some 110 yards. There has been periodic discussion of this flight, especially as the celebration of the Wrights' well-documented achievement gains momentum, toward December 17.

The Wrights, of course, are just-about-universally credited with making the "first controlled powered flight of a heavier-than-air vehicle," one hundred years ago, this December. Pearse's claim to fame has not, by most accounts, included the word, "controlled." Although he landed unhurt, he was covered in thorns, having snarled himself in a hedge on his property near Waitohi.

[We shouldn't neglect mention of Romanian engineer Traian Vuia, who is generally credited with having made the first self-launched, controlled, powered, heavier-than-air flight on March 18, 1906, somewhere near Paris, France; but this story is about Pearse, not the history of flight! --ed.]

The airplane Pearse made almost-famous has been replicated by a number of enthusiasts in NZ, and they're planning to fly more than one, powered by modern engines -- a huge hp/weight advantage over Pearse's day, and an inestimable reliability edge. Judging from rumors of the machine's handling, any edge they can get, will be made good use of.

It's only semi-historical; it's certainly enlightening; and it's a whole lot of fun.



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