rainbow 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 on his racing cycle, 1890s

Pither drew on his background as a professional racing cyclist and cycle manufacturer to build the structure of his plane.


Bert Pither portrait in Dunlop brochure 1890s

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.


Pither aircraft at Dunedin Caledonian Ground, photo from Otago Witness 1910

In today's terms Pither's Bleriot-style monoplane is a microlight, with the wingspan of a Piper Tomahawk.
There is uncertainty around his claim to flight because there was no contemporary eye witness account.


Replica in progress, Colin Smith in pilot's seat


Colin Smith 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.
Bill Sutherland of Waikaka built a look-alike Pither V-4 engine, and the engine-propeller combination was set to the power output specified by Pither (250lb or 113kg) to test whether that was sufficient to put the craft in the air. The only design concessions were added for safety reasons and made no difference to performance. These, plus the heavier engine, made the replica 160lbs (77kg) heavier than Pither's craft.

There may be a similarity between Pither's engine and a JAP engine


Oreti Beach photo (2003)

The 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.
Here Pither set up camp for a week in mid-winter 1910, finding a gap in the wintry weather one afternoon to fully test his plane.


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.
Pither and his Australian wife Sarah Hahir had no children, but there are many descendants in other lines.
Information collected for this project, including photos and family legends, is being shared with far-flung branches of the family.

Can anyone help with MORE ?

Sketch of Pither aircraft
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
Pither aircraft at Dunedin Caledonian Ground, photo from Otago Witness 1910

The Plane

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

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.
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.

Pither flies

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

http://www.akl-airport.co.nz/aviate.html 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

http://www.age.co.nz/weekly/2003/percy_fisher.html Arthur Schaef and Percy Fisher of Wellington were experimenting at much the same time as Pither.

Croydon Aviation Heritage Trust
Wing for replica under construction
Colin Smith with photo of Pither aircraft

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.

Can you provide more information?

The Croydon team would welcome information on:

Pither's cycling career in New Zealand or Australia

Unfortunately the club he raced for in Christchurch lost its archives to fire

His early 1902 single-cylinder car

No photo has so far been found

His business activities in Melbourne, Christchurch and Invercargill

His whereabouts in Australia 1911-21

Any surviving Pither marine or agricultural engines -- his "Peerless" brand is distinctive...

Sketch of Pither aero engine

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,
New Zealand
Telephone: (03) 208 9755
Fax: (03) 208 4288
E-mail: croydon.aircraft@esi.co.nz

© 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 businessmen.

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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