Richard Pearse: A powered airplane nine months before the Wright brothers

By | March 5, 2008

pearse.gifRichard William Pearse (3 December 187729 July 1953), a New Zealand farmer and inventor, performed pioneering experiments in aviation.

Pearse appears to have successfully flown and landed a powered heavier-than-air machine on 31 March 1903, some nine months before the Wright brothers. The documentary evidence to support such a claim remains open to interpretation, however, and he does not appear to have developed his aircraft to match the Wrights’ achievement of sustained, controlled flight. Pearse himself made contradictory statements which for many years led the few who knew of his feats to accept 1904 as the date of his first flight. The lack of any chance of industrial development, such as spurred the Wrights to develop their machine, seems to have suppressed any recognition of Pearse’s achievements.

… Good evidence exists that on 31 March 1903 Pearse achieved a powered, though poorly controlled, flight of several hundred metres. [2][3] Pearse himself said that he had made a powered takeoff, “but at too low a speed for [his] controls to work”. However, he remained airborne until he crashed into the hedge at the end of the field.

… Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Pearse continued to work on constructing a tilt-rotor flying-machine for personal use — sometimes described as a cross between a windmill and a rubbish-cart. His design resembled an autogyro or helicopter, but involved a tilting propeller/rotor and monoplane wings, which, along with the tail, could fold to allow storage in a conventional garage. Pearse intended the vehicle for driving on the road (like a car) as well for flying. However he became reclusive and paranoid that foreign spies would discover his work. Committed to Sunnyside Mental Hospital in Christchurch in 1951, Pearse died there two years later. Researchers believe that many of his papers were destroyed at that time. – wiki

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