Richard Pearse (Often mispelled Richard Pearce), nicknamed 'Bamboo Dick', was an early pioneer of aviation, hailing from New Zealand. There is much anecdotal evidence that his early flights may have even preceeded the Wright Brothers, however by his own words (and standards), Richard Pearse never sustained a controlled flight until after the Wright Brothers' inaugural flight.

Richard Pearse was born on the 3rd of December, 1877, at Waitohi Flat in New Zealand, son of immigrants Digory Pearse (Cornwall) and Sarah Brown (Ireland). Richard was the fourth of nine children in a family of farmers. Richard was a daydreamer at school, and his studies reflected this, although he did excel at one subject - engineering.

Richard was interested in the possibilities of flight at an early age, and made numerous toy propellors and gliders as a child. By the time he was a young man Pearse was a notorious 'mad inventor', and also a gifted craftsman. Pearse had made his own lathe and forge from cast-offs and junk he had scavenged from the local garbage dump.

Pearse became a hermit of sorts, discouraged by the ridicule his ideas received from the local populace, he worked alone on his farm creating Lord knows what in his tin shed workshop late into the evenings. Pearse's only contact to the outside inventors' world was through a regular subscription to Scientific American.

To build Pearse's airplane the first issue that needed to be tackled was the engine. Pearse enlisted the help of local New Zealander Cecil Wood and between the two of them they came up with their own internal combustion engine, making the engine from scratch, building spark plugs, carburettors and such from tin cans, and irrigation pipes.
The engine was first fired up some time in 1902, a twin-cylinder affair producing roughly 25 horsepower, and weighing in at 57 kilograms - some four times less the weight of engines producing equivalent power of the day.

Pearse's aircraft was made largely from bamboo, tubular steel, wire and canvas. His first "flight" took place on March 31st, 1902. The flight was watched by a number of locals, none of whom made any reports to the local newspaper, and the duration of the flight could be anywhere from 100 metres to 400 metres, although the likelihood is closer to the shorter end of this estimation. There is no dispute, however, as to how the flight ended - in a four metre high (13 feet) gorse hedge.

Pearse attempted a number of other flights culminating in what many suggest is the first controlled and powered flight on May 11th, 1903, where Pearse took off from alongside the Opihi River, flew approximately 910 metres (3000 feet) until his engine began to overheat and he was forced to land. Again this flight is unsubstantiated and without witnesses.

Richard Pearse himself, in 1904, sent two letters to two local New Zealand newspapers suggesting that, by his own standards, he had not attained controlled flight and that the Wright Brothers had beaten him to the prize.

Whether Richard Pearse's own standards significantly differed from the Wright Brothers is not something we can argue about now, however what is beyond contest is the differences in the two aircraft.
The Wright Flyer was a large box-kite, using wing-warping to turn the craft, and landed on skids. Pearse's flying machine resembles modern aircraft considerably closer, with an upright rudder, ailerons and wing flaps, tricycle landing gear with a steerable front wheel, a variable pitch propellor all in a monoplane configuration.

Richard Pearse continued inventing on his farm up until 1910, when he became very sick with Typhoid, he sold the Waitohi farm and moved to Milton. Here he had invented a motorised plough, an automatic fertiliser applicator and a device that attached to a plough to plant potatoes, as the land he had purchased was not suitable for allowing flying machines to take off. In the 1920s, with land prices falling, Pearse gave up on farming entirely, sold his Milton farm and moved to Christchurch, where he built three houses and rented two of them out.

In the early 1930s Pearse decided to try his hand at aircraft again and set about to build the "Utility Plane", what he hoped to be the Model-T of the skies. The aircraft was built around an engine whose pitch could be changed to allow it to take off vertically, much like todays Hawker Harrier Jump-Jet. He applied for a patent in 1943 and received it in 1949, but by this time Pearse's aircraft designs were outmoded, and the jet-engine age was almost upon him.

Pearse became increasingly paranoid and angry about the lack of interest from aviation firms, and slowly went mad. He was admitted to Sunnyside Mental Institution in Christchurch in June on 1951, and died in July of 1953 at the age of 75 from a heart attack.

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