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EAA Young Eagles - Ask the Expert

Question :
Hi,
I am wondering why the Wright brothers are credited with the first powered and controlled flight. I am from New Zealand and I know that Richard Pearce aviated before the Wright brothers. Not to discredit the brothers but it does seem unfair. I have heard that Pearce's flight was uncontrolled, but the restored example at Auckland Museum of transport and technology shows clear ailerons and elevators. Please advise me as to why New Zealand is not credited with the first flight, to the best of your ability, of course.
Ryan
 
Answer :
Hi Ryan,
There are several claims from around the world that powered flight was achieved before the Wright Brothers, including:
James Preston Watson - Scotland
Alexander Mozhaiski - Russia
Clement Ader - France
Karl Jatho - Germany
Richard Pearse - New Zealand
Lyman Gilmore - California
Gustave Whitehead - Connecticut / Germany
Burrell Cannon - Texas
Alberto Santos-Dumont - Brazil / France
Perhaps the most interesting story is that of Karl Jatho in Germany, but if we follow proper principles of historical enquiry, it's unlikely that any of these "contenders" made a powered flight before the Wright Brothers. It's even less likely that anyone made a powered and controlled flight.
So what causes these stories to be so popular?
First, people like to debunk a popularly-held view of history. Sometimes I do this myself... it is fun to explain to an American audience how Thomas Edison did not invent the electric light bulb.
Second, people are sometimes ignorant about what the Wright Brothers actually achieved, why their work was so different to that of everyone else, and the way their discoveries changed the whole world.
Third, memories are fallible. Many of these stories rely too much on information collected from an old person, decades after the supposed event, under far from impartial circumstances.
Finally - and perhaps the most common and important reason of all - people are often blinded by national pride, local pride or family pride. People want to believe in their local hero, even in the face of most striking evidence. Twice - in 1915 and 1928 - Richard Pearse is on clear written record explaining that the Wright Brothers made the first powered flight and how his own efforts failed. Pearse is also on record as saying he didn't begin experimenting before 1904. Pearse denied what others have claimed for him, yet virtually the entire nation of New Zealand seems to believe the story of their hero battling and succeeding against overwhelming odds.
Hope that helps shed some light on the subject. Try searching the names above to learn more about the early days of flight.
Adam Smith
EAA Young Eagles

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