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Richard Pearse, first person to fly?
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PostPosted: Fri May 28, 2010 3:47 pm    Post subject: Richard Pearse, first person to fly? Reply with quote

The NZers believe that this person flew before the Wright Brothers. His parents were Cornish.

Richard William Pearse (3 December 1877 29 July 1953),son of Cornish immigrants from St Columb near Newquay, a New Zealand farmer and inventor who performed pioneering experiments in aviation.

Pearse supposedly successfully flew and landed a powered heavier-than-air machine on 31 March 1903[1], some nine months before the Wright brothers flew their craft. The documentary evidence to support such a claim remains open to interpretation, however, and he does not appear to have developed his aircraft to the same degree as the Wright brothers did, in respect of sustained, controlled flight. Pearse himself was not a publicity-seeker and also occasionally made contradictory statements which for many years led some of the few who knew of his feats to offer 1904 as the date of his first truly-controlled 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.

Pearse made several attempts to fly in 1902, but due to insufficient engine power he achieved no more than brief hops. The following year he redesigned his engine to incorporate double-ended cylinders with two pistons each. Researchers recovered components of his engine (including cylinders made from cast-iron drainpipes) from rubbish dumps in 1963. Replicas of the 1903 engine suggest that it could produce about 15 horsepower (11 kW).

Verifiable eyewitnesses describe Pearse crashing into a hedge on two separate occasions during 1903. His monoplane must have risen to a height of at least three metres on each occasion. 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.

A silver medal struck by the New Zealand Mint for the New Zealand Museum of Transport and Technology in 1982 to commemorate the "80th Anniversary Of World 1st Powered Flight" by Pearse. MOTAT's website gives 1903 as the year of his first flight, not 1902 as indicated on the medal.[4]

Richard William Pearse Monument

With a 15 horsepower (11 kW) engine, Pearse's design had an adequate power-to-weight ratio to become airborne (even without an aerofoil). He continued to develop the ability to achieve fully controlled flight. Pearse incorporated effectively located (albeit possibly rather small) "ailerons". The design's low centre-of-gravity provided pendulum stability. However, diagrams and eye-witness recollections agree that Pearse placed controls for pitch and yaw at the trailing edge of the low-aspect ratio kite-type permanently stalled wing. This control placement (located in turbulent air-flow, and close to the centre of gravity) would have had minimal, possibly inadequate, turning moment to control the pitch or yaw of the aircraft. The principles of his design, however, accord precisely with modern thinking on the subject. The Wright brothers, in comparison, successfully applied the principles of airfoil wing-profile and three-axis control to produce fully controlled flight, although their design, using wing-warping and forward mounted stabilizer, soon became obsolete.

Pearse's work remained poorly documented at the time. No contemporary newspaper record exists. Some photographic records survived, but undated, with some images difficult to interpret. Pearse himself made contradictory statements which for many years led the few who knew of his feats to accept 1904 as the date of flying. Unconcerned about posterity and in remote New Zealand, he received no public credit for his work during his lifetime. The Wrights had considerable difficulty in getting their accomplishment recognised, despite better documentation and witnesses; a "Fliers or Liars?" debate continued for quite some time after Kitty Hawk, and it took highly public demonstrations before the Wright brothers gained wide recognition. Although Pearse patented his design, his innovations such as ailerons and the lightweight air-cooled engine did not succeed in influencing others.

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