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Kiwi Flight Before the Wright Brothers? 336

houseofmore writes "The Toronto Star is is reporting that New Zealander Richard Pearse may have very well made several flights beginning almost nine months before the Wright Brothers ever got off the ground. It also notes that "Mad Pearse's" machine was in some ways more advanced than the first Wright Flyer."
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Kiwi Flight Before the Wright Brothers?

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  • From the article:
    "New Zealand is still a young country and it's a ... funny country>

    Good stuff. Makes me want to go visit. :)
  • This is news.

    Everywhere else, it's history.
  • Bamboo Dick (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:23AM (#4897421)
    "Mad Pearse," also known as "Bamboo Dick" for his building material of choice...

    With a handle like that, one would imagine he may have been famous for something else...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:25AM (#4897431)
    This has been repeated time and time again for years, it's just that most Americans are simply in the dark of the fact. Those historians that do realise it don't really mention it much.

    Patriotism simply gets in the way of the truth sometimes. It's an unfortunate side-effect of human nature.
    • by DaedalusLogic ( 449896 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @08:32AM (#4897910)
      It lies in this technicality. They were the first to take off under their own power from an altitude equal or less than the spot that they landed from.

      Pearce's flights are described as being made from a hill, landing in a spot near a creek at a lower elevation.

      People had been gliding for years before the Wright's. People built much better gliders then the Wright Flyer. Glenn Curtis built a great plane very shortly after the Wrights. While the Wrights stored their plane for 4 years after the 17th Dec 1903... Trying to lock down patents on it. The fact however remains that by the majority of serious aeronautical engineers they are the birth of the age of powered flight.

      Patriotism... maybe a little... but spliting hairs is much more of an apt description... I for one think that it's a valid distinction.
      • The reason why most serious aeronautical historians credit the Wright Brothers was the fact that the Wright Brothers did a lot of very serious scientific research into flight before that first successful powered flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903. They used wind tunnels for research, a idea very far ahead of its time!

        There are other claimants but none had the repeatability of what the Wright Brothers did in 1903.
    • Here is the deal. You can be the first, the best, the highest flight, the longest flight, the best looking craft or whatever but it doesn't do you any good if you don't document well or at least as good as another researcher. The Wright's were impeccable in the documentation of the flight research. These men were true scientists in the highest sense of the word. You can see their notebooks and hand made wind tunnels on display at the museum at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton. Their research notebooks would be the envy of any research scientist or engineer.

    • It has nothing to do with patriotism, but with documentation. The Wright brothers flight was well documented, as was their research surrounding it. No one had to do anything special, like digitally enhancing a film of the flight to read the date of the newspaper in some guys back pocket, to verify when and where it happened.

      There are other Americans who claim to have flown before the Wrights, such as Lyman Gilmore [ncngrrmuseum.org], who claimed to have flown in 1902. Of course, the guy was nutty as a fruitcake, and the only reason he wasn't dismissed out of hand was that he actually invented stuff that worked. No one was ever found that could verify his claim, though, so he remains obscure.

      If Newton's documentation hadn't been as good as it was, Leibniz would likely get all the credit for Calculus.

  • Mad Pearse (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:28AM (#4897442)
    More info on the man in question:

    Richard Pearse: FIRST FLYER [nzedge.com]

    Famous New Zealanders - Richard Pearse [nzemb.org]

    And a sidenote from an article in Time magazine [time.com]:

    Flight Pioneers

    His neighbors called him "Mad Pearse," but in March 1903 the reclusive New Zealand farmer climbed into a monoplane he had built at his Waitohi property and flew for about 140 m before crashing into a hedge. It may not have been a sustained flight, but it was the most successful powered take-off until the Wright brothers entered the record books in December 1903.
    • Re:Mad Pearse (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:42AM (#4897477)
      Lord Of The Ring's Peter Jackson directed a fake documentary named Forgotten Silver [theonering.net]. The movie showed footage from Richard Pearse's flight, and at the time no one knew the documentary was a fake until the next day.

      That night on talkback radio (newstalk zb) there was a lot of joy. The occasional bitter american hating bastard called in, but no more that usual ;) It was really quite amazing, and the documentary promised that landmark event would be credited to New Zealand. It sounds silly, but it really was an awful feeling when the footage was announced as a hoax.

      Still, excellent job. Good job Peter Jackson!

    • by trotski ( 592530 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:49AM (#4897497)
      Heres some more stuff:

      Richard Pearse [itgo.com] - Features some really cool pics of his aeroplane
      Richard Pearse, Aviator [nzhistory.net.nz] - Features a cool VRML 3d model of his flying machine. Remember VRML? Also has some dimensioned drafts.
      Richard Pearse - New Zealand Pioneer Aviator [monash.edu.au] - IT's got soem schematics and descriptions of the engine he used.

      Lots more cool stuff available out there if you feel like looking.
    • Re:Mad Pearse (Score:3, Informative)

      by Alioth ( 221270 )
      The significance about the Wright's first flight is not that it was a first powered heavier than air flight (the Wrights got airborne but stalled and crashed before the actual celebrated 'First Flight'). It was because their flight was the first heavier than air controllable and sustainable flight (that didn't end in a crash). The Kiwi guy may have had a powered plane up before the Wright's date, but he didn't have all the significant attributes of the Wright's flight (particularly the not-crashing bit)

      There were plenty of other powered heavier than air flights before the Wright's 1903 flight, but none of them were either sustainable AND controlled AND piloted.
  • So what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Big deal if he might or might not have flown first. When the brothers Wright, they gained the publicity needed to spur greater innovation in avionics. So it doesn't matter that he did it first, as he didn't didn't influence anyone important enough (like the Wright brothers did with the military). Interestigly enough, the article talks about how Pearse's aircraft was more 'modern', as it had ailerons for steering as opposed to the wing warping of the Wrights' craft. But isn't the aerospace industry trying to use wing warping technology in the next generation of aircraft? Kudos to the man if he actually did make a flying machine, that's no small task, but there's no real point to revise history for someone with so little impact.
    • Re:So what? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Hairy Fop ( 48404 )
      It probably matters little if your american. "It doesn't matter that we didn't fly first, there's no point changing the history books to fit what actually happened that would be silly!" Making it so that they lose less kudos to another country, by making it less important is cultural xenophobia.
      It's not important that the Americans got to the moon first because they didn't make it commercially viable.Albert Einstein discovering relativity wasn't important because he didn't make it commercially viable.
      • what point changing history books NOW, when this was common knoweledge decades earlier, and there's lots of other reasons why wright bro's are 'fathers of flight' or so.

        personally though, i'd give otto lilienthal much much much more credit, he bust his ass testing gliders and gave much much inspiration to everyone.
      • t probably matters little if your american. "It doesn't matter that we didn't fly first, there's no point changing the history books to fit what actually happened that would be silly!" Making it so that they lose less kudos to another country, by making it less important is cultural xenophobia.

        Lots of things happen in history. History isn't just a listing of random facts, it is a method of finding cause and effect. Facts that don't lead anywhere are just trivia -- . It has nothing to do with xenophobia.

        In Canada, those of Scandinavian descent are into the idea that the Vikings were the first Europeans to reach North America. Even if true, who cares? The wave of colonialism was inspired by Columbus, plain and simple.
      • You totally shoot yourself in the foot.

        If someone came alone tomorrow or in the next decade and figured out a way put people on the moon and make money by putting more people on the moon, he would all but reduce NASA to a footnote. And NASA would have at least directly lead to that innovation.

        While Bamboo Johnson's uncontrolled decent into a bush might have been the first one with alerons, his innovation didn't lead to that next big innovation. The proof is that his accomplishment has remained obscure for a century. Sony proved it with Betamax, and Microsoft is built on it. It's not first or best that carries the day, it's popularity. (Which continues to enjoy unprecidented popularity.)

        Crashing into bushes has remained relatively unpopular until the birth of Steve-O, who's lead something of a renaissance in the areas of bush crashing and nut stapling. Maybe your local hero will find his richly deserved recognition in that area, in which he appeares to have accomplished much.

        Footnote for Einstein: When the president of a superpower is redistributing a significant amount of a planet's resources to build a superweapon based significantly on ideas teased from your intuition, those ideas are officially commercially viable. But why quibble with the facts, when your sarcastic assertions are a little more true, and a little less supportive that you thought.
  • OUCH (Score:3, Funny)

    by Rubbersoul ( 199583 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:31AM (#4897446)
    "Mad Pearse," also known as "Bamboo Dick" for his building material of choice...

    The first thing I thought of was OUCH!!!
  • by Vendekkai ( 121853 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:31AM (#4897451)
    A quote from the article, "Dr. Peter Jakab, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., doesn't deny that Pearse got off the ground. "But what he flew was essentially a powered glider flying into a ravine. So it wasn't a true powered flight. He's just one of many pre-Wright claimants."

    Newspapers need to have stories like this occassionally. Therefore, Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare, and this guy flew first.

    If he actually did, well, tough. Inventions and discoveries often happen contemporaneously. One of them gets the credit, and the others peddle paranoid theories.
    • Paranoid theories (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CausticWindow ( 632215 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @06:31AM (#4897599)
      I agree with you that inventions often are made by different people at about the same time. As another poster said, the idea was out, time was ready for flight. I also agree with you that the one who loses the fight for recognition often comes off as a paranoid loon.

      But there is an important aspect of international politics here too. Being able to claim that your nation is the 'inventor' of aviation is a powerful tool of propaganda. Maybe not alone, but along with several other claims of invention, you would make your nation look intellectually superior to others. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and would probably give the inhabitants in that country greater confidence in themselves and their abilties or opportunities as inventors, thus spurring new inventions.

      I perfectly understand why one would resort to this type of propaganda, but it is nevertheless still propaganda. Even if you or I don't care much what country really 'invented' aviation, somebody appearantly care enough to, if not falsify, then certainly to bend history to fit their means.

      Even if in this particular case, the Wright brothers turn out to be the real 'inventors', there are plenty of other interesting examples out there (like Edison vs. Swan).

      Patriotism is no excuse for ignorance
    • by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @06:55AM (#4897659) Homepage
      I could be wrong, but doesn't the Smithsonian have to defend the Wright Bros as first flyers or immediately lose the Wright Bros exhibit? There was bad blood for many years with the Smithsonian claiming Prof. Langley flew first, or sort of, could of, if we make a few modifications to the plane and .. It was a very nasty business from some accounts that I've read.

      I not saying that they'd shade the truth, but they definitely have an agenda in this matter.

    • Revisionist History (Score:4, Informative)

      by Martin Spamer ( 244245 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @07:02AM (#4897673) Homepage Journal
      Dr. Peter Jakab, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., doesn't deny that Pearse got off the ground. "But what he flew was essentially a powered glider flying into a ravine. So it wasn't a true powered flight. He's just one of many pre-Wright claimants."

      This looks like revisionist History to me and searching around uncovered this :

      "Neither the Smithsonian Institution or its successors, nor any museum or other agency, bureau or facilities administered for the United States of America by the Smithsonian Institution or its successors shall publish or permit to be displayed a statement or label in connection with or in respect of any aircraft model or design of earlier date than the Wright Aeroplane of 1903, claiming in effect that such aircraft was capable of carrying a man under its own power in controlled flight."

      http://chrisbrady.itgo.com/pearse/smithsonian.ht m

      Add the fact George Carley's first flight [google.co.uk] predated the Wright Brothers by a hundred years.
    • by richieb ( 3277 ) <richieb&gmail,com> on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:11AM (#4898039) Homepage Journal
      Actually, the Wrights had done plenty of glider flying experiments in 1901 and 1902, getting their control system worked out. In the process they beat most of the world glider flying records set by Lilienthal years before.

      The flight in 1903 was the first powered flight.

      The achievement of the Wright's was that they took a scientific approach to the problem of flight (eg. they invented the wind tunnel in the process) and that they were the ones who actually figured out how to control an airplane in flight.

  • its great..... (Score:2, Interesting)

    that New Zealand can make Slashdot news two days in a row.. with LOTR-TTT and this. But really, this is older than the hills of Hobbiton. Down these parts, its well accepted that Pearce took the first flight. But no-one in the 'outside' world new about it.. until well after the Wright's made the irectractable headlines. No big deal tho huh ?
    • Few credit out $100 note gacing Ernest Rutherford for splitting the atom first either, but what ya gonna do?

      Come to think of it, why isn't Pearce on one of our notes? Edmund Hillary and Rutherford are. I think we should kick the queen off our 20s and put a right nutter in her place. That'll learn 'em.

      • I think we should kick the queen off our 20s and put a right nutter in her place. That'll learn 'em.

        Why not just wait for Prince Charles to become king, and it'll happen anyway?

        Anyway, I'm guessing the next person to be put on a NZ banknote is going to be Frodo Baggins ...

  • Damn straight (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pkplex ( 535744 )
    it was a kiwi whom flew first, just as it were a kiwi whom made the first pavolva :p
  • by Anonymous Coward
    sigh... this is common knowledge here in NZ, and has been for many many years.

    <flamebait>but we're used to the americans taking the credit for everything </flamebait>
  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:40AM (#4897471) Journal
    Imagine... building such a machine from scratch, with hardly any prior experience to build upon. According to the article he had to figure out and build everything himself up to the engine and the prop. Then... climbing into that thing and actually flying it. Remember, this guy didn't attend flight school first.

    Anyway, here's a picture of the replica and a lot more info. [itgo.com]
    • by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @07:05AM (#4897682) Homepage
      Imagine.. Two bicycle mechanics building such a machine from scratch, with hardly any prior experience to build upon. According to the article they had to figure out and build everything themselves up to the engine and the prop. Then... climbing into that thing and actually flying it. Remember, those guys didn't attend flight school first. :^P I think everyone was in the same boat, er, plane at that time.

      To be fair, the Wrights didn't build the engine.

      • But unlike all the other claimants, the Wright Brothers did a lot of serious scientific research into flight before they finally got it to work on 17 December 1903.

        You are forgetting they used wind tunnels to test flight characteristics on scale models, something that I don't think anyone else had. It's an idea so scientifically sound that even today aerodynamicists use wind tunnels to test airplane shapes even with access to modern supercomputers that can study aerodynamic shapes with computational fluid dynamics.
  • Peter Jackson (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gatsby137 ( 632418 ) <.gatsby137. .at. .hotmail.com.> on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:42AM (#4897479)
    As another post already mentioned, this story has been around a long while. It is even incorporated into Peter Jackson's fake documentary, "Forgotten Silver". Made for NZ television, it's about a mythical filmmaker named Colin McKenzie who supposedly pioneered all sorts of things like color film, etc. Along the way, he happened to film Pearse's flight. The movie shows the recently 'dicovered' footage, and does such a good job of it that a large number of viewers took it as real, and then got very mad at Mr Jackson when he pointed out it was false. Happily, New Zealanders now seem to be quite keen on him again, what with the success of that Lords and Rings movie. "Forgotten Silver" is on DVD, and you should check it out.

    And in a few months, I get to travel to NZ again...hooray!

    Cheers, Mike V.
  • by Caractacus Potts ( 74726 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:44AM (#4897484)
    An American inventor named Gustave Whitehead allegedly flew in Aug 1901. Here's a site [deepsky.com] that explains more of his story. BTW, my ex-girlfriend's parents own the land where the Wright Brothers had their shop (now a hotel), so I'm practically an expert on the matter.

    • by MalleusEBHC ( 597600 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @06:15AM (#4897562)
      BTW, my ex-girlfriend's parents own the land where the Wright Brothers had their shop (now a hotel), so I'm practically an expert on the matter.

      My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend knows this guy who knows this kid who's going with a girl who saw Ferris pass-out at 31 Flavors last night and who's parent's own the patent office that Einstein worked at, so if you have any questions about the theory of relativity I'm practically an expert on the matter.
      • Ohmigod, that's been the front page news in all british newspapers for the past TWO WEEKS!

        Apparently the boyfriend of the fitness instructor of the wife of the Prime Minister of the UK is a bit dodgy.

        Never mind that twenty suitcase nukes have been confirmed missing from soviet times, north korea has been selling missiles to yemen, the EU has decided to admit ten new countries. The big news is that some Australian con-man is good at negotiating real-estate deals... Sheesh!

  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:47AM (#4897488)
    http://www.wam.umd.edu/~stwright/WrBr/inventors/Li lienthal.html

    For that matter the Wrights themselves flew long before they 'flew.' In gliders rather than powered planes.

    Pearse's plane seems to have been something more than a mere glider, but less than a true airplane, which the article in question seems to say Pearse himself fully realized.

    What perhaps Pearse didn't realize is that the Wrights were no more 'schooled' then he was, one of the facts that led many to deny the Wrights had actually flown. I mean really, just who were these upstart bicycle mechanics from *Ohio* who claimed to have accomplished that which those who the world acknowledged as having the best engineering minds had failed at, time and again?

    Unlike Pearse though, the Wrights were highly scientifc and methodical in their approach. Taking every step slowly. Testing, testing, and then testing some more. Working up the final product in careful measured steps.

    The true legacy of the Wrights wasn't the first flight. Just as Tesla left little for anyone else to do other than refinement in the world of electricity, the Wrights left little for others to do in the theoretical field of subsonic aeronautics. Some of their theoretical principles were so advanced that they weren't commonly accepted as true until after WWII.

    It doesn't really matter who 'flew' first. The Wrights gave us the *field* of flight.

    All that having been said Pearse certainly sounds like the sort of 'loon' I could spend a happy lifetime hanging out with.

    • Unlike Pearse though, the Wrights were highly scientifc and methodical in their approach. Taking every step slowly. Testing, testing, and then testing some more. Working up the final product in careful measured steps.

      I think there are a couple of things that made the Wright Brothers' first flight more believable to the scientific community.

      First of all, the Wright Brothers--being bicycle mechanics--already had the experience to build and design machines of various types. They just applied much of their bicycle engineering experience into building the Wright Flyer.

      Second of all (and this is the very important one), the Wright Brothers methodically used the scientific method to design and refine the Wright Flyer design. Why do you think they were using wind tunnels to study airplane design on scale models, an idea far ahead of its time?

      Finally, they actually bothered to get someone out there to take pictures proving such a flight did occur. That's why we have a number of pictures of the setup of the launching system and the actual flight itself.
    • > The true legacy of the Wrights wasn't the first flight. [...] The Wrights gave us the *field* of flight.

      Their work was based on Lilienthal's work. Including the methology.
      Lilienthal reduced some problems into small self-contained experiments to devise several formulas for aerodynamics and published them.
      And he build small models and real glider out of this data and documented that, too.

      In other words, he did scientific work on aerodynamics.

      The Wright Brothers discovered (probably among other things), that one constant in Lilienthal's formulas was wrong.

      From the The Wright Brothers Page [umd.edu] (hardly a page underestimating the work of the Wright Brothers):
      From statements and writings left by the Wright brothers, it is clear Lilienthal was an important source of inspiration for their efforts

      So, attributing creating the field of flight to them seems to me a bit overestimated.
  • by USC-MBA ( 629057 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:47AM (#4897493) Homepage
    This story may seem like a poignant bit of trivia about a footnote to history, but a deeper look reveals a lesson in this story for all of us.
    There are photographs and exact data to prove that Orville Wright made a 12-second, 36.6-metre flight at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, Dec. 17, 1903 (...)

    There's nothing but a handful of informally collected eyewitness accounts to confirm Pearse's first flight.

    The moral of the story is: never underestimate the importance of a good marketing department.

    The Wrights were not stupid. They realized the importance of what they were doing and made sure that their efforts would be documented. As the above quote demonstrates, this documentation is what led them to fame and fortune.

    In today's competitive marketplace, it is not enough to be a "geek" with a dream. Different people have different kinds of expertise, and one asset any inventor or entrepeneur needs is a good marketing department, one that will see that the right information gets out to the right market segments, ensuring success for all.

    Microsoft, RSA, eBay, the tech world is full of companies whose founders had the foresight to recruit and work closely with top talent from the management, financial, and marketing communitites.

    So remember the lesson of "Bamboo Dick" Pearse the next time you want to curse out some "marketroid" who doesn't have the same comfort levels around technology as you. His department might be the only thing that keeps your company from joining the long, long list of good business ideas that didn't quite work out.

  • So what? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jzu ( 74789 )
    This guy was not the only one. Take Clément Ader [flyingmachines.org], for instance. He managed a flight of 50 meters in 1890 in a steam-powered bat-like aeroplane, but with the wrong technology, one that forbade improvements, when the Wrights gave the right direction (and came at the right time, too).
  • by Cerlyn ( 202990 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:51AM (#4897503)

    The credit (or lack thereof) given to the inventor or discoverer throughout history has always been to the one that speaks loudest to the commons. We all know the debate that Columbus did not "discover" America, as there were plenty of people there first.

    A lesser known example but just as true is was the fight between Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray over who invented the telephone [about.com] (Google other resources [google.com]). In that battle, Bell filed a patent and Gray filed his caveat (intent to file a patent) the same day.

    Sadly, we all too commonly think that a "single" person or firm must have invented something, while others often have inventions that predate them. It's no wonder the patent office is getting confused (although they really should try cutting down on the duplicates).

  • Who's on First? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by foniksonik ( 573572 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:51AM (#4897504) Homepage Journal
    Yet again another claim to prior art in a world stuck on 'One-up-manship'.

    This is obviously related to NASA's celebration (along with the rest of us Americans) of the centennial of flight, as measured in years from the first Wright Brothers flight. Reminds me of the other stories of the italian fellow who did radio first and the british fellow who did a version of television first.

    Here in America we also celebrate Independence Day on the 4rth of July (unlike many other countries), we consider Ford's Model T to be the first car (we all know it wasn't), we take credit for baseball (a derivative of cricket and many other earlier games)and claim a lot of other national achievements which are just that, American 'achievements'.

    What we don't do is tell the rest of the world to celebrate these individuals or events along with us in the same way that we, as a nation, don't celebrate French holidays or Chinese new year, unless it's out of personal regard.

    You can argue that we attempt to force our events and holidays down the world's throat via media, etc. but that is all subjective. An example is MY birthday. It's important to me and my friends and family but you probably don't care too much. Now if I was a celebrity you might pay attention for entertainment's sake but that's your choice.

    None of these people, Wright Brothers, this Australian fellow or any of the people I mention or who were involved in the events mentioned asked for your attention. They did what they did because they wanted to achieve their goals. Who's on First? Who cares! If you think the person is interesting and should be celebrated for their achievement then do so.

    It's all subjective in the end so do what you think is best, give credit based on your own views and let others do the same.

    • Re:Where is First? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by houseofmore ( 313324 )
      Urmm... maybe it's just me, but there is a big difference between Americans celebrating French holidays and spoofing facts in your children's history books.

      And if you don't think you celebrate the Chinese new year, you've obviously not spent any time in San Fransisco or Manhattan... for a start.
      • In regards to history, still relative. History has never been based on so called facts. I'm the first to agree that the drivel we pass off as American history is given to our children as 'fact'.

        In regards to Chinese new year, well I did say it is a matter of personal regard. Yes America is multi-cultural but as a nation we do not celebrate other nation's holidays (grain of salt).
    • Here in America we also celebrate Independence Day on the 4rth of July (unlike many other countries)

      You mean, other countries don't celebrate the _American_ Independence day?!
      • Yep! Did I mention that celebrating events or people is a subjective experience? I thought I did, *pheu*... that was almost stressful. I'm glad you noticed how subjective a cultural experience can be.
    • "this Australian fellow"

      New Zealander! Please pay attention.

      "Here in America we also celebrate Independence Day on the 4rth of July"

      (it's 4th) and at least that makes SOME kind of sense - America was a colony and gained independence, so a national holiday in celebration seems logical enough. Surely Americans don't REALLY believe the Ford Model T to be the first car? Apart from anything else, there were plenty of American cars that preceded it.
      • Whoops, some 'typos'. Sorry to all you NZ nationals out there, it's late here (2 am, now 3 am).

        Surely you don't think that Christmas was REALLY the day of Christ's birth? And yet we (Americans? World?) celebrate as such.

        Anyways, the point is that celebration of anything is a subjective experience. America's independence day is not the same as elsewhere, first flight isn't either...

        Da Vinci had plans for flight, helicopters WELL before any of these actual flights. The idea was ancient before anyone accomplished the task. Who's on first? If Da Vinci had 'patented' his idea first would he be getting credit?

    • Your ignorance shines brightly when you are seemingly unable or unwilling to acknowledge the difference between an Australian and a New Zealander.

      So tell me, what's all that Canadian crap you were just talking about?
      • Unfortunately there's no edit for /. posts, so a mistake will remain a mistake. Honestly, I know that New Zealand is the size of California, which is pretty damn big in the relative sizes of countries out there. Read below for apology to NZ.
  • by A Rabid Tibetan Yak ( 525649 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @05:51AM (#4897505)
    I live a few tens of kilometres from the site of the flight -- Pearse is something of a local celebrity/historical figure, some (funny) pictures [travelcentre.com.au] including an impression of the original plane.

    A replica of his plane is on display in our local museum, sadly it's not online but it's mentioned at the bottom of this article [richardpearse.com], with the original at the Museum of Transport in Auckland (NZ's largest city, at the top of the North Island, we're in the middle of the South Island's east coast).

    As the article states it's hard to verify his accomplishments, and for that reason I believe that the Wright brothers will hold their record for a while unless any stunning new evidence arises. Still, good on Pearse, one of aviation's original hackers :).
    • Well when I was at university, a girl staying in my hostel said she had her great-aunts diary in which she talks about witnessing one of Pearse's flights. Perhaps that might be useful.
  • I thought that this guy [deepsky.com], Gustave Whitehead, made a test run 2 years before the Wright Brothers, in Bridgeport, Connecticut [sacredheart.edu] (where I was born)...

  • Does this mean the Wright brothers' patent may have been invalid? Their aggressive efforts to enforce their patent is said to have seriously delayed development of aviation by others up to WWI. As I understand it the government had to step in to force them to license the patent at reasonable royalties in WWI, and this marked the true beginning of modern aviation.
  • by Shturmovik ( 632314 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @06:14AM (#4897560)
    ...but I don't let childish nationalistic, patriotic gibberish blind me: Richard Pearce did not achieve powered flight before the Wright brothers. As many others have pointed out, he flew a glider into a ravine, and not even very well -- he crashed.
  • by dark-br ( 473115 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @06:15AM (#4897564) Homepage
    Alberto Santos Dumont was born July 20, 1873, in the village of Cabangu, State of Minas Gerais, Brazil. At the age of 18, Santos Dumont was sent by his father to Paris where he devoted his time to the study of chemistry, physics, astronomy and mechanics. His first spherical balloon, "Brasil," ordered from Maison LaChambre, with the capacity of 113 cubic meters, capable of lifting a ballast of 114.4 lbs, and having in its lower part a wicker basket, made its first ascension in Paris on July 4th, 1898. His second balloon, "America," had 500 cubic meters of capacity and gave Santos Dumont the Aero Club of Paris' award to study the atmospheric currents. Twelve balloons had participated in this competition but "America" reached a greater altitude and remained in the air for 22 hours.

    Putting aside the aerostation, he began to devote himself towards solving the problem of steering the balloons. His first steered balloon, "Santos Dumont no. 1," ascended on September 18th 1898. Balloons "Santos Dumont no. 2," which wasn't successful, and "Santos Dumont no. 3," built at the Vaugurand workshop, followed. "Santos Dumont no. 3" ascended on November 13th, 1890. It circled a few times the Eiffel Tower, headed to the Park and from there finally headed towards the Bagatelle field where it landed flawlessly.

    In view of the success of no. 3 balloon, the Aero Club of France was founded and Mr. Deutsch de La Meurt instituted the "Deutsch Prize" to be awarded to the balloonist who, taking off from Saint-Cloud, circumnavigated the Eiffel Tower and returned to the starting point in less than thirty minutes. This prize was conquered by Santos Dumont on October 19th, 1901, with dirigible no. 6. Besides this prize, Santos Dumont received the sum of 100,000 francs which he distributed in equal parts to his workers and the beggars of Paris.

    Dirigibles nos. 7, 8, and 9 followed. With the latter, on July 4th, 1903, Santos Dumont maneuvered over Longchamps, where a military parade was being held in commemoration of Bastille capture.

    Once he solved the problem of steering the lighter-than-air vehicle, Santos Dumont devoted himself to the heavier-than-air problem. Aboard the 14-BIS he made his first unsuccessfull attempt in July, 1906. On September 7th, the 14-BIS wheels left the ground for a moment; on the 13th it could reach the height of one meter; on October 23rd, the airplane flew 50 meters. It was on November 12th, 1906 that Santos Dumont's airplane, the 14-BIS, flew a distance of 220 meters at the height of 6 meters and at the speed of 37,358 km/h. Thanks to this flight the "Archdecon Prize" was awarded to Santos Dumont, who had thus, solved the problem of making a heavier-than-air machine take off by its own means.

    Santos Dumont died on July 23rd, 1932, in Brazil. According to the law no. 165 of December 5th, 1947, enacted by the National Congress of Brazil and sanctioned by His Excellency President Eurico Gaspar Dutra, Alberto Santos Dumont was permanently listed in the Brazilian Air Ministry Almanac with the rank of Lieutenant Brigadier. He was promoted to the Honorary rank of Air Marshall on September 22, 1955, according to the law no. 3636, and is permanently listed in the Brazilian Air Ministry Almanac.
  • The first manned flight was performed by George Cayley [wikipedia.org] in 1799, nearly a hundred years before [flight100.org] the Wright Brothers where even born.

    Cayley are also discovered the theory of flight [demon.co.uk]
  • Scientific Flight (Score:2, Informative)

    by toxic666 ( 529648 )
    Maybe someone "flew" before the Wright Brothers, but they never recorded their results, much less reproduced them.

    Not only did the Wright's reproduce their results, they modeled their experiments in wind tunnels and engineered their aircraft. Thus, they had data about the lift, weight and propulsion they planned to test.

    With that data and their experiments, they improved upon their results. In the process, they formed a company that had a viable -- if ultimately unsucessful -- business model. Their business failure was only an inability to adapt to businesses that were more adept at improving upon their proven technology. These businesses were global in aspect; Curtis, Bleriot's monoplane Fokker, etc.

    This debate has been covered for many years; by the standard of controlled, reproducable results, the Wrights were the first. We went through much of the same debate during the 75th anniversary, but those who forget history are condemned to relive it.
  • by Mulletproof ( 513805 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @06:24AM (#4897584) Homepage Journal
    "There's nothing but a handful of informally collected eyewitness accounts to confirm Pearse's first flight"

    "And I swear officer, I saw a dozen lights flying through the sky and one landed near me! This little grey man with huge eyes stepped out...."
    Too bad every last one of the records of this alien abd-- er, historic flight were lost or destroyed.
  • by blitz487 ( 606553 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @06:36AM (#4897612)
    For the first manned, powered and controlled flight. Pearson's "flight", if indeed he did fly, was obviously uncontrolled. Even if his flight was controlled, it's irrelevant because he failed to document it and all corroboration has, of course, vanished.

    The Wrights developed the very first theory of propellors, and theirs was 70% efficient. Quite remarkable. The Wrights built their own engine from scratch, did not employ skilled engineers for their first airplane, and devised the first wind tunnel to test airfoil sections. The Wrights did make a survey of all available information on building airplanes, and found what little existed to be totally wrong (such as Lilienthal's data). They did what was likely the first modern R&D program (building successive prototypes, each building on the results from the previous, all targetted at powered flight). The Wrights did it all from scratch.

    • And most importantly, they mastered the art of the presentation: Enough people on hand to document a success, no enough people to spread word of a failure.

      I'm kidding of course. (I think.) I strong agree with everything you said.

  • We all know the Vikings discovered New Zealand hundreds of years before these so called 'New Zealanders'
  • God what a relief, almost every time there is some claim about someone inventing something or other first, light bulb, public key cryptography, whatever.. we get claims that a Brit invented it first. As a Brit I find this intensely irritating. Who gives a flying fuck ? We all know America is Number 1 when it comes to self promoting propoganda. This is far more useful in the long run than inventing miscellaneous bits of modern technology. The British used to be pretty good at this too, but we lost it. When people [especially ourselves] stopped believing our propoganda, the empire evaporated immediately. Please stop rubbing our noses in it with these "XXX really invented by YYYY" stories. This time it's a New Zealander... phew [although I'm sure there was some Argentinian who flew before Wright brothers mentioned a few years back].
    • Funny you should mention the light bulb. Sir Hiram Maxim has a claim to not only having been the first to fly, but also patented a form of light-bulb in 1878! On July 31, 1894, Maxim's steam-powered aircraft flew around 200 feet.

      Maxim was most famous for the Maxim machine gun. He also built a fairground ride known as "The Captive Flying Machine". One of these is still in use at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Lancashire, and will be celebrating its 100th birthday in 2004.

      He was born in Sangersville, Maine in 1840, moving to London in the 1880s. He died in 1916.
  • Then he'd be known as an Australian.

    Anything good to come out of NZ is claimed as Aussie.
  • They have photos of the flight [aardvark.co.nz]:
    of the plane: [aardvark.co.nz]
    and of the man itself: [aardvark.co.nz]
    yes, he also is santa claus.
    (there even is groundshaking video footage of this historical event)
  • was the first to fly..ok.. BUT, we all forget Leonardo Da Vinci and his flying machine.
    We should rephrase and specify that the kiwi/wright brothers are the first documented modern flight personalities. Old epics such as the Mahabharatha and Ramayana (which countries like India,Sri Lanka and Indonesia believe in) have records of flying vehicles.
  • The Legacy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @07:10AM (#4897692) Journal
    I hate conspiracy theorists that can't think straight.

    First of all, if anyone had flown, they would have gotten widespread attention, as the Wright brothers did. A dozen people saying they witnessed the first flight, but not saying anything for years, just makes no sense at all. That would be like someone having made the trans-atlantic flight before Lindberg, but not telling anybody about it... It's a ridiculous assertion.

    But more to the point, let's say someone flew before the Wright brothers... Let's go to extremes an say the Mayans had the technology to build jumbo jets. What does that mean? NOTHING. The Wright brothers' flight wasn't just an interesting outting... it was the spark the led to our modern world of aviation. None of the previous tales of flights led to anything but a handful of books and videos to make some money off the gullible.

    If you had even the slightest bit of proof that you'd flown before them, you wouldn't be sitting in a bar, telling your story to uninterested passers-by... You'd have gone to court right away, looking to get some of the money from the brothers' patents. But back then, decades hadn't passed, so there would still be evidence that could be investigated. Convenient that all theses incredible stories aren't brought to light until after there is no evidence left to investigate...

    As for witnesses... give me a few days and I'll have hundreds of people swearing that they watched me levitate, and fly around hundreds of feet off the ground.
    • Nonsense. (Score:3, Informative)

      Lot's of men flew lots of vehicles before the wright brothers. None of this is a surprise. What they achieved was a new thrust-to-weight ratio with their new engine - making their aircraft much more practical.

      Heck, the head of the Smithsonian at the time (Langley) demo'd flying machines - but they used steam engines, IIRC.
  • Every invention seems to be "discovered" by many unrelated people at same time. Here in Brazil and France we recognize as the airplane inventor Alberto Santos Dumont. He flew a machine named 14-Bis at Paris on the 23rd/oct/1906 in front of the public (AFAIK the Wright brothers flew in front a selected audience, not a public demonstration).

    A 14-bis picture can be seen here http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Wright_Bro s/1906/WR9G1.htm
    it looks today as it was made "backwards" as the sustentation wings are in back part of the plane.

    The 14-bis also is recognized as the first motorized airplane, it used a 50hp motor to fly, the flying machine from the Wright brothers was more like a glider.

  • Powered flight? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by srealm ( 157581 )
    Dr. Peter Jakab, a curator at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., doesn't deny that Pearse got off the ground. "But what he flew was essentially a powered glider flying into a ravine. So it wasn't a true powered flight. He's just one of many pre-Wright claimants."

    What exactly does this guy consider powered flight.

    According to the article, this guy flew 140 meters (as opposed to the Wright brothers 36.6 meters). He also had elements that would not appear in US aircraft for another 20 years (such as the 3-wheeled landing gear).

    And I don't know about others, but I would still consider a glider an aircraft. Especially if its a prop driven craft, with single wing, decent landing gear (even if it did not get used often), and aileron steering.

    I get the feeling that there has to be an american flag on the side, or at least an american pilot before it can be considered 'Powered Flight' by the Smithsonian. Yet another uncredited first buried because it was not an american that did it.

    And before you call me an 'anti-american foreigner', I'm an American too, but I believe the truth is more important than patriotism. Even if its not what you want to hear.
    • The Smithsonian is an American institution. Why wouldn't they consider an American first.

      When will New Zealand announce their centennial of flight?(they have already AFAIK) When will Brazil announce? How about Italy or England? The Wright Bros are America's legacy. We announce it. Do other countries or people have to agree? no.

      Americans announce their achievements, we're egomaniacs and we like attention, so be it. If other countries just sit on their collective asses and say nothing then America ends up with the loudest voice.

      BTW this seems to apply to a lot of other issues as well. On the other hand I live in America so maybe I'm only hearing one side of the story.... that's why places like /. are great, you get to hear at least a few more sides.

      And yes America is slow to recognize achievements that don't involve Americans... big surprise.

  • I see all sorts of borderline conspiracy theories being posted here about why the Wright Bros. are credited with the first flight. I'm seeing some interesting theories about why others who supposedly did it first aren't in the history books. Remember that history is how we got where we are today.

    Before going off on some ill-conceived rant about the evils of stolen credit, bear that simple concept in mind. Thousands of people could have flown before the Wright Bros., but if their having done so leads us to where we are today, then they become more important to history, the others become curious footnotes. It happens all the time. You don't have to read much to run across other instances of this. Don't get too bothered by it. There isn't some evil conspiracy at work.

  • Since all involved, and their companies, are long gone I don't see what difference it would make.

    Just as with radio, it doesn't matter now who made it first. The determination came late enough that it never made any financial difference to Tesla or his estate and never changed anything in the history books. The same would be true of powered flight.

    It might make a difference in national pride. But I don't think it would decrease the Americans pride much. And, from the sounds of the article, I'm not sure the kiwi's would buy into the whole thing anyway. Even with proof.

    Kiwi's, god love 'em, are like that.

  • by infolib ( 618234 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @08:31AM (#4897902)
    - so what?? He probably didn't even have onboard internet access [slashdot.org]
  • by StealthSock ( 634668 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @08:32AM (#4897909)
    ...now the opening theme to Enterprise has to be changed to include footage of this guy. While the're at it, they can change that godawful song.
  • What is a flight? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rednaxel ( 532554 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:21AM (#4898107) Homepage Journal
    From the answer to this question the first one may differ. If you mean be thrown up (by a catapult) and then manage to do a propelled flight, then land it safely, then Wright's is the first (1903). If you mean fly like a today's plane (with self-powered take-off, flight and landing), then Santos-Dumont is the first one (1906). If one consider glide over a ravine, maybe Pearce's flight is the first. And the list goes on and on, it is in the eye of the beholder.

    The prize he won by doing this was offered to the one who would solve the problem of autonomous flight, needed to any practical use of a plane: the ability of take-off, fly to destination, and landing, then take-off again, fly back and land again, without any external support.

  • by Stiletto ( 12066 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:48AM (#4898210)
    "I had successful navigation within my grasp ... but I decided to give up the struggle as it was useless to try to compete against the men who had factories at their backs."

    It seems he was a man ahead of his time. He should be working today, where this situation is standard and accepted...
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @09:49AM (#4898222)
    Stories like this have been around for a century, and we will see them all resurrected in the run-up to next year's 100th anniversary of thte Wright's first flight. They appeal to people who think everyone else is lieing.

    No one, including the Wrights themselves, ever denied that others were competing with them. And, no one has ever denied that a few others probably managed to build some sort of powered craft that generated enough lift to get off the ground for a feew seconds. But, lift alone does not a airplane make, no more than someone who tosses an empty wooden box on the water can claim to have invented the boat. The Wrights -- who were not really the Midwestern yokels they're superficially presented as -- deserve credit for inventing sustained, controllable flight. In other words, an aircraft that could take off, go where the pilot wanted it to go, and land without crashing. No one did that before them.

    (And they were clever enough to patent their work, something that is sure to draw the knee-jerk antipathy of many Slashdot readers who think the only person who doesn't own something is the person who made it in the first place.)

    This kind of "Someone Beat the Wrights" story feeds the same self-induced paranoid, alienated, conspiratorial audience as do the "Moon Hoax" stories that appear here frequently.
  • It's okay... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DarkVein ( 5418 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @10:03AM (#4898327) Journal
    It's okay, because he wasn't published. Like Tesla.

    Reportedly, the Wright Brothers were assholes, and fought madly to keep control of their invention private. It took World War I for them to cede. Assholes, like Graham Bell and Newton. All of whom seem to have been heavy plagiarists. However, they stole for unpublished people, so it was all dandy.
  • Funny! (Score:3, Funny)

    by derch ( 184205 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @12:05PM (#4898935)
    I'm an American.

    Watching all the dicussion's been funny. No one knows who did it first, but they all know the Americans are jingoists because we too claim to be first in flight .

    Italians claim they did it first.
    The French claim they did it first.
    Kiwis say "No we did it first!"
    Now, Brazilians are piping up.

    It seems to me that every country is definining the first successful flight based on whatever small step their pioneer took.

    What you guys need to do is get together, come up with a firm list of requirements for what makes a flight The First Flight, figure out who did it, then talk Rupert Murdock into producing a special for his TV stations. This definitely sounds like something Fox Television would show.
  • by KC7GR ( 473279 ) on Monday December 16, 2002 @12:33PM (#4899179) Homepage Journal
    ...had been at Kitty Hawk in ... when was it, 1903? Would he have been in the Wright place at the wrong time?

    (I wonder how many Karma points that's going to cost me?)

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court