Pither 1910 Monoplane
Developed, built and flight-tested by:
H. J. (Bert) Pither
Southland, New Zealand (formerly of Canterbury)
Information provided by Pither biographer Rosemarie Smith
Pither drew on his background
as a professional racing cyclist and cycle manufacturer to build
the structure of his plane.
Known in his day for an interest in the manufacture of "anything weird and mechanical", Pither had shown technical
and athletic abilities since his Canterbury childhood.
In today's terms Pither's Bleriot-style monoplane is a microlight, with the wingspan of a Piper Tomahawk.
of the Croydon Aircraft Company has built a replica of
Pither's aircraft to put the 1910 design to a practical test. Working
drawings were able to be produced from usefully detailed contemporary
newspaper reports and photographs, although no one knows what adjustments
Pither later made at his beach test-site.
There may be a similarity between Pither's engine and a JAP engine
PITHER'S BEACH TEST SITE
beach where Pither tested his plane is accessed from Bay Road.
In 1910 it was known as "Riverton Beach" because this was where the
coach road between Invercargill and Riverton ran along the beach.
Today it would be referred to as just the western end of Oreti Beach.
THE PITHER FAMILY
Born in Reigate, Surrey, in 1871, Pither was the second
eldest of 12 children of John and Lydia Pither, who emigrated to
Canterbury on the Crusader in 1875.
Can anyone help with MORE
||Read the three stories from the Southland Daily News 1910, containing detailed descriptions of the monoplane and the only record of Pither's description of flight. Click Here
Fuselage: All-metal, steel tubing, box girder principle.
Wings: Also steel tube, wooden ribs, fabric covered; span 28 feet (8.5m); area 160 sq. ft (14.9 sq.m).
Total steel tube: About 65m.
Weight: 500lbs (230kg) excluding the pilot.
Length: 26 feet (7.9m).
Propeller: 6ft 6in diameter (1.9m) based on marine design; steel hub, aluminium sheath.
Engine: Four cylinder VEE capable of 40 hp.
Thrust capability: 250 pound (113kg).
Control in air: Pedal-operated tail rudder.
Lateral stability: Achieved by warping rear edges of wings, controlled by steering wheel.
Pitch control: Lever-operated elevators.
Undercarriage: Motorcycle or bicycle wheels with fitted spring shock absorbers.
Herbert John Pither
in his day for an interest in the manufacture of "anything weird
and mechanical", Pither had shown technical and athletic abilities
since his Canterbury childhood.
His Bleriot-style monoplane has features that indicate he was aware of contemporary international developments and the principles of flight, besides some innovative ideas of his own.
He drew on his background as a professional cyclist and cycle manufacturer to build the structure of his plane from steel cycle tubing, thus tackling one of the problems of his day: how to achieve a plane light enough to be lifted by the engine power then available.
Pither ran a Kelvin Street engineering business in Invercargill about 1906-1910, building petrol driven engines for boats and agricultural machinery. He came south driving a car he built himself in 1902 in Christchurch.
The close resemblance of both Pither's engine and airframe designs to the contemporary JAP engine and to the English firm's experimental 1910 plane (now in the Science Museum in London) is a mystery. See http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/on-line/flight/flight/jap.asp
The Croydon Project
The project's major aim was to honour this very inventive man for his engineering achievements in their own terms.
At this point no one can prove Pither flew – unless they can find reliable eyewitnesses who made a contemporary record of the flight (with photos please.) No one authorised to speak for the Croydon Aircraft Company project has made, or will make, such a claim.
But the successful flight of the replica, showing that it is both flyable and controllable, greatly increases the probability that Pither flew, especially when placed alongside Pither's own description of his experience.
The supposed “Pither” engine currently in MOTAT, Auckland , has detracted from an assessment of Pither's abilities as an engineer. However it is highly unlikely to be a Pither engine, but rather an engine that included some left-over Pither parts from the foundry. It is certainly not the engine in the contemporary photographs of Pither's plane, nor does it match the quality of his workmanship.
The MOTAT engine was almost certainly built by another Invercargill aviation experimenter, Jimmy Paskell, a contractor and scrap-metal merchant. This engine was retrieved from a site in Otatara, close to the Paskell property, and Paskell's son has described disposing of this engine from his father's aircraft down a well there. (He also disposed of a metal-sheathed propeller of “old-fashioned design”, which has not been recovered.)The area was later quarried for gravel, apparently bringing the engine back to the surface.
Pither critics have cited the inadequacies of this engine, discounting the possibility that it could operate for long enough to sustain flight. This may well be so, but is irrelevant to a consideration of Pither's achievements.
At 7.30am on Saturday 18 February, Croydon Aircraft Company's Pither replica 1910 monoplane moved for the first time under its own power out onto the Mandeville airfield.
The Croydon team had anticipated lengthy cautious taxiing trials might be necessary, but pilot Jerry Chisum quickly established the craft was stable, and on only the second run, inched it into the air over a distance of about 100 metres.
Take-off speed measured from the chase car was 70km.
On successive runs he took the monoplane slightly higher, and satisfied himself it was fully controllable.
Its performance exceeded his expectations, given its minimal tail surfaces, he said.
“It wants to fly.”
However there is no historical reason for putting it to any greater test, and no intention of doing so. The replica will become part of the Croydon Aviation Heritage Trust's future museum collection.
http://ahsnz.tripod.com/home.html The Aviation Historical Society of New Zealand
A timeline of New Zealand aviation history
http://www.akl-airport.co.nz/pearse.html Introduction to the life and achievements of South Canterbury farmer and self-taught engineer Richard Pearse
http://www.akl-airport.co.nz/walsh.html The Walsh Brothers, who made the first flight in New Zealand that meets generally recognised standards
Arthur Schaef and Percy Fisher of Wellington were experimenting at
much the same time as Pither.
The proposed Trust museum will present the southern men who dreamed of flying and their aircraft designs. Some other known early experimenters (pre-1915) were Francis Potter (Kelso), Ben Edginton (Invercargill) J.H. Gill (Dunedin) Simon McDonald (Gore and Invercargill) and Jimmy Paskell (Invercargill). Will Scotland's 38 mile flight from Invercargill to Gore in February 1914 was the first cross-country flight in New Zealand.
Information on these men and any other experimenters is welcome.
The problem with Pither's claim to flight
Pither's claim to have flown on Oreti Beach on 5 July 1910 relies almost entirely on his own description of the experience, as given to journalists.
Reminiscences collected years suggesting at least one more ambitious flight has now been discounted.
Like many technologically inventive minds, Pither may have lacked the business skills and finances to exploit his ideas, and he probably over-extended his resources in his investment in the plane.
He is not known to have been involved in any further aviation experimentation, and died in Victoria in 1934 without again laying claim to be the first to fly in New Zealand.
The extent of his achievement is therefore still open to question.
The Croydon team would welcome information on:
Unfortunately the club he raced for in Christchurch lost its archives to fire
No photo has so far been found
Pither Aero Engine
Does anyone know the present whereabouts of a 1909 JAP engine believed to have been imported by Pither, last heard of at Charles Liddell's private museum in Papakura in 1981?
Croydon Aircraft Company Ltd.
Old Mandeville Airfield,
No 6 RD,
Telephone: (03) 208 9755
Fax: (03) 208 4288
© Copyright: The information contained in these pages is the property of Croydon Aircraft Company Ltd. Mandeville.
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Last updated: 12th September 2003
The Pither family
John and Lydia Pither came
from Reigate, Surrey, where both their fathers were substantial
They emigrated to Canterbury
as on the Crusader in 1878, when Bert was seven.
Eventually they had a family of 12, and there are numerous descendants. Family names include Mills, McNichol and Fraser.
An Internet search on the name shows the Pither family continues to produce achievers, especially athletes.
Bert's brother Laurence became a building contractor in Katoomba, and there are Australian descendants, though no connection has yet been traced to Air Commodore A.G. Pither, RAAF, who was responsible for Australian radar defence during World War 2.
Brothers Len and Laurence were also good cyclists. Someone in the family may have the photo above of Bert on his bike, which was still in existence in the 1950s.
Bert married Sarah Hahir in Melbourne in 1895. They are known to have been in Horsham, http://www.horshamvic.com.au/index.php?id=horsham a small town just outside Melbourne, in 1921, where Pither died in 1934 and his wife in 1958. Any information about their lives in Horsham is welcome.
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