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Scouting for aviation history — serendipity and a fiancée-fiancé learning moment

4 May 2012

Scouting for aviation history — serendipity and a fiancée-fiancé learning moment

44º 18′ 14″ S / 171º 13′ 29″ E

Sign post at the airport, many locations for many directions — photo by Joseph May

I am fortunate to be married to a lovely kiwi (a person from New Zealand). I was also fortunate to visit New Zealand in 2009 with her as tour guide while we were engaged to be married. We saw a bit of the north and south islands, as well  as, much of her family.

Part of our time was spent driving from Christchurch to Dunedin and back. Half of the way back to Christchurch, near Timaru, I was looking to take a break from the highway and noticed a sign for a local airport — just a generic airport sign, still it was a timely detour opportunity. Exploring secondary roads is usually a lot of fun for me and dropping in on semi secluded airfields can be delightfully surprising since they are excellent, and affordable, places to work on or simply store historical — as well as antique — aircraft.

That day I did not find antique aircraft but I found so much more …

Named after one of New Zealand’s own with a drawing of his aircraft  which became airborne without use of a catapult — photo by Joseph May

We happened upon Richard Pearse Airport which has a special, though mysteriously little known, place in aviation’s history. It was named after the early aviator Richard Pearse — the brave man who invented an engine and an airplane almost entirely on is his own, incredible but kiwis have been resourceful due to their remoteness. Although he likely never achieved controlled flight he made bounding type flights of several hundred yards, not quite under control, months prior to the Wright Brothers historical achievement of first powered control flight — and the nation who fathered the man who started nuclear physics (Ernest Rutherford) is as justifiably proud of Pearse. The stop was totally serendipitous and I was lucky that day.

The airport lies a scant 6¼ miles (~10.1km) from the farm of Richard Pearse’s flight attempts near Waitohi, near a sculpture of his aircraft near his first attempt (some say first flight) on Main Wahitohi Rd between Opihi Terrace Rd and River Rd.

The granite rock memorial to Richard Pearse and his flying attempts — photo by Joseph May

The bronze plaque inset of Pearse’s memorial stone — photo by Joseph May

Yet another discovery was the presence of an aviation museum. Although closed for the season at the time I was there I’ll be sure to see the South Canterbury Aviation Heritage Centre on my next visit.

A museum to see one day — photo by Joseph May

My fiancée was sure that I had secretly planned this fortunate event but I really had not — the moment proving that even a blind hog gets an acorn every now and then 😉

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 14 May 2012 22:03

    There is a plaque at the Timaru airport and the Richard Pearse Memorial with a replica of his monoplane is in the Upper Waitohi district, near Pleasant Point on the Main Waitohi Road, overlooking the field were he crashed. Map . The Timaru Airport was opened 9 April 1932. Timaru’s airport “Richard Pearse Airport” at Levels is named after this farmer from Waitohi , the first British citizen to fly. The South Canterbury Aviation Heritage Centre is planned for the airport in a few years.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      16 May 2012 21:51

      Thanks for this info — it is greatly appreciated and I’ll update my files 🙂

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