Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Pither Monoplane Replica at Mandeville

Continuing with my Burt Munro thoughts (as I was in the deep South), it seemed to me that Herbert Pither was a sort of pre-Burt Munro type of pioneer.  Pither also worked alone in his Invercargill garage to produce his monoplane which was advanced for its time.  He built the airframe from steel tubes that were brazed (when most aircraft were being made from wood) and he also built his own V4 engine.  Then he took the aeroplane to Oreti Beach to fly it (the same beach that Burt Munro tested his Indian motorcycle).  Pither claimed that he flew about a mile in a straight line at heights of around 25 to 30 feet, on 5 July 1910.  If this is true then Pither would have been the first person to fly an aeroplane in New Zealand (discounting Richard Pearse who never claimed that he made a controlled flight).  The only problem with Pither's claim is that there were no witnesses to his flight, so it cannot be verified.

The aeroplane never flew again althought it was displayed at cities in the South Island including Dunedin, where the above photo was taken on 7 September 1910 and published in the Otago Witness newspaper.  In this photo the wings have been temporarily fitted and do not have the dihedral that the flyable aircraft had.

Now fast forward to the early 2000's and Colin Smith of the Croydon Aircraft Company Ltd.  Colin Smith was able to make working drawings of the aircraft from the Otago Witness photos and construct an approximate replica of Pither's aeroplane powered by a lookalike V4 engine that was built by Bill Sutherland.  This replica aircraft made several successful straight line flights at Mandeville airfield on 18 February 2004, and in the process proved that Pither's aeroplane was probably capable of flight.  However, the pilot in 2004 was the very experienced Jerry Chisum whereas Pither himself had never flown an aeroplane or even seen one fly.

I was recently able to photograph the replica Pither Monoplane at the Croydon Aircraft Heritage Centre at Mandeville, on 13 November 2014.

Topically, the replica is scheduled to attend the 2015 Wings Over Wairarapa airshow at Masterton in January.

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