By Jeff Hampton
A Christchurch aviation author is rewriting history, and it is not good for supporters of Richard Pearse, the Kiwi inventor some believe flew before the Wright brothers.
Errol Martyn has found original material which he says proves Mr Pearse's flight attempts happened much later.
Errol Martyn has a passion for aviation history. He has spent decades researching and writing about it.
Now he says he has solved the mystery of when South Canterbury's Richard Pearse first flew, and it wasn't before the Wright brothers in 1903 as some have claimed, but much later.
“There's a report in January 1910 in the Timaru Post that speaks of him making flights,” says Mr Martyn. “Obviously hops, not flights, and these are obviously flights people remember him making down Waitohi Rd.”
The year before, 1909, the earliest recorded accounts of Pearse flight attempts appeared in several newspapers. Mr Martyn believes witnesses were mistaken when they later claimed the flight attempts were in 1903.
“There's a desire to believe that Richard Pearse or New Zealand or South Canterbury were first to have a flight before the Wrights, but it never was,” he says.
Researching for a new book about early aviation in New Zealand, he tracked down the newspaper accounts missed by other researchers.
“The reason it has been overlooked is researchers have been focusing their efforts on 1902, '03, '04, looking for an aeroplane that never existed.”
He believes Mr Pearse could not have flown in 1903, because he had not developed the engine then, let alone the aircraft.
There has always been strong support in South Canterbury for Mr Pearse. Back in 2003, the district held a centenary celebration complete with replica aircraft.
Richard Pearse's late nephew, also named Richard, spoke then of his father's stories about his aircraft.
“He declared it certainly flew and went as far as to say it circled the paddock one or twice,” he says.
The pilot that centenary day was Jack Melhopt, a Pearse enthusiast who still chooses to believe the 1903 story.
Mr Pearse died in 1953 and any other witnesses are long gone too, but even all these years later this story still has lots of twists and turns.
source: newshub archive