Regarding the controversy about who flew first there is one element overlooked by all including Richard Pearse himself that while seemingly minor is in fact a crucial element to claiming first flight. This minor element was achievement by Richard Pearse and only later by the Wright Bros long after their first successful flight – powered take off. Richard’s machine had wheels and achieved self-propelled powered take off from a level paddock whereas the Kitty Hawk was mounted on a downhill (denied) ramp or rail to enable it to gain momentum as a glider, assisted with engine driven propeller to achieve its take off.
Without the (proven) downhill ramp providing for the run up speed the Wright Bros machine simply could not take off (Orville Wright always claimed the area of their camp was level for a mile in each direction), but the Kitty Hawk was in fact a multi-wing glider with an engine-driven propeller that today would be towed by car or another aircraft to gain lift. Richard’s machine on the other hand had a single stubby mono wing that would never glide no matter how fast it went and required power to achieve lift and flight.
In addition to these ‘fudged’ facts rumours have persisted about the US War Department pushing hard during those years to have flying machines (if they worked) in its arsenal because of growing USA global ambitions and the Smithsonian Institute being involved for the privilege of having the first flying machine. This push led to inconvenient ‘facts’ being set aside and the Wright Bros being awarded a military contract to supply the army with flying machines and the Smithsonian getting the bonanza exhibit.
I think the other facts often unfortunately over looked was the incredible feats of Richard Pearse brilliance. He built everything himself; the aircraft from bamboo, the propeller from tin and the engine itself unlike the Kitty Hawk which was outsourced.
Shaun McLean Tauranga (Marine projects engineer)