What a shock to the US history books if a New Zealander was placed ahead of Orville and Wilbur Wright! There're growing calls for lasting tributes to be awarded the efforts of Richard Pearse.
Son of a South Canterbury farmer, Richard William Pearse (1877 - 1953) grew up on a farm about 10km inland from Temuka, just north of Timaru. His ambitions of becoming an engineer and training at Canterbury University College in Christchurch were firmly quashed by his father who said if he wanted to know anything about engineering to see the local smithy. A shame...as the college's brilliant resident professor might well have unleashed the latent genius in Pearse, as he did with another pupil of the time - Ernest (later Sir) Rutherford, world-famous NZ atom-splitter.
In 1898 at 21, Pearse was set up on a small farm by his father, hoping to kindle some agricultural interest, but Richard couldn't be drawn from his engineering dreams and constant tinkering. Locals labelled him "mad" and left him alone in his workshop, where eventually his burning desire to fly became reality.
By the end of the 19th.century, no-one had yet achieved sustained controlled powered flight though several were striving hard - notably America's military-funded Samuel Langley who dogged the other (now far more celebrated) contenders, the Wright brothers. Pearse faced a mammoth task: no technical training, only self-made equipment, no financial backing and little encouragement. Yet after much trial and error his kiwi ingenuity produced a bamboo monoplane with innovative rudders, both horizontal and vertical, for balance and steering...