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  1. Part one of three from this full length programme.

  2. Part two of three from this full length programme.

  3. Part three of three from this full length programme.


Around 31st March 1903 eccentric farmer Richard Pearse climbed into a self-built monoplane and flew for about 140 metres before crashing into a Waitohi gorse bush. The amount of control he maintained and exact date (before the Wright bros?) has been oft-debated, memorably by a speculative zoom in Forgotten Silver. This TV film dramatises the life of the reclusive young inventor and his flying machine, from his youth to events leading up to take off and the flight itself. Actor Martyn Sanderson captures "Mad Dick's" obsession in a Feltex-winning performance.

Credits (20)

 Peter Muxlow
 Roger Simpson
 Barry Empson

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Comments (5)

 Jeremiah Westaway

Jeremiah Westaway

My great-grandad was one of the eyewitnesses that witnessed Richard Pearse's flight. His farm was right across from Richard Pearse's farm.

 Michael K. Wyrsch

Michael K. Wyrsch

Are there any old and real picture of his aircraft?



Richard Pearse may have denied that he flew, but eye witness accounts say otherwise. He just did not "fly" to his own expectations, and he did not have the publicity that the Wrights did. But fly he did, without the aid of engineers or financial investors.
Also, there were other at the same time who were getting air under their wings, but who did not have the same publicity agents and therefore lack acknowledgement.

Famed aircraft authority Jane's All the World's Aircraft says there's convincing evidence that Gustav Whitehead, not the Wright brothers, was the first to achieve powered controlled flight, but critics may be unmoved. In the foreword of the 100th edition of Jane's All the World's Aircraft, Jane's editor Paul Jackson cites the work of Australian aviation historian John Brown. Brown's evidence includes a 1901 article describing Whitehead's sustained flight in a controlled powered aircraft flown from a field in Connecticut, ahead of the Wrights' 1903 flight. Unfortunately, although one picture of a Whitehead flight was reportedly taken, observers who require any direct visual evidence will be disappointed. And Whitehead is not without his detractors.
While other pioneers may have preceded the Wright brothers in briefly achieving controlled flight in a powered airplane, a lack of clear convincing evidence and successive development of an airframe have likely stunted their notoriety. And that may be the case for Whitehead.
The first written account cited by Brown that is descriptive of Whitehead's pre-Wright flights was published by the Bridgeport Herald in August of 1901. That story states that an unnamed representative of the Herald witnessed the flight. According to Brown, the Herald published the story on page five of a subsequent issue and did not include a photograph. Jackson writes that existence of a photograph is supported by written accounts that describe it as blurry and identify it as part of an exhibition that showcased aviation in 1904 and 1906. Whereabouts of the original photograph, or any copies, are unknown. Jackson adds that Brown's work found multiple "affidavits and statements" that exist "on tape and film or video" of individuals who "bear witness to the many powered flights made by Whitehead between August 1901 and January 1902." There are no taped, filmed or video records available to provide visual confirmation of Whitehead's flights. The Wrighs may retain the record "First" In Flight in spite of the fact that they may not have been the "first". They just had good publicity.

 Bill Wright

Bill Wright

Well Pearse himself said that he did not fly and looking at the contraption depicted in this video, it is not surprising. Recent replicas, paying no heed to the principles of aerodynamics, would have been completely unstable.

The Wrights not only designed and built their 'flyer', but consulted widely with other researchers and applied the fruits of that research to their own machine. They built a wind tunnel, established not only the best form of aerofoil, by repeated tests but realised that an efficient propeller must itself be based upon an aerofoil. Their successful 1903 flight at Kittyhawk followed years of thought and experiment, they left nothing to chance. The Wright's claim to the first powered flight srands.



Research and eye-witness accounts have elicited the fact that Pearse most likely 'flew' before the Wrights. Additionally he built and designed everything himself, whereas the Wrights had the services of experienced bicycle mechanics to help them.

Produced by

 NZ Broadcasting Corporation


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 Kiwi Ingenuity


Hey Dicky Bird show us your wings — show us how you can fly! 
I’m afraid Richard’s more interested in his inventions than he is in social diversions; he’s never one for joining in ... 
The only way you’ll fly me boy-o is on angel’s wings, and the way you’re going that’s not too far off at all! 


1976 Feltex Awards
Best Performance (Martyn Sanderson)