58 / Richard Pearse


Richard William Pearse was a South Canterbury farmer and a remarkable inventor, receiving his first patent at the age of 25 for a new type of bicycle. In his home workshop at Waitohi he built his own aircraft, which managed in March 1903 to take off, briefly. There is confusion over whether he predated the Wright Brothers’ first historic flight, in December 1903, but Pearse never claimed that honour – believing his short hops in the air did not qualify as sustained flight. However, he was the first British subject to manage a powered take-off in a heavier-than-air machine of his own design and construction. He moved to Milton, Otago, in 1911, and later to Christchurch, where he built another aircraft. He died in 1953, disillusioned by the lack of interest in his revolutionary ideas.

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