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Bert Pither's 1910 Monoplane

An Pioneering Aircraft Designed And Flown In New Zealand

In 1910, pioneer New Zealand aviator Bert Pither designed and build a Bleriot-style monoplane, which he claimed to have flown at Oreti Beach near Invercargill. Unfortunately there were no witnesses to these flights, and so the question of whether the aircraft actually flew or not has remained unverified ever since.

Test pilot Jerry Chisum sits in the open air cockpit as his ground crew reposition the tail of the aircraft, prior to a display 'taxi run'.  Photo: © Craig Justo

In 2004 Colin Smith of the Croyden Aircraft Company (Gore, New Zealand) built this marvelous reproduction of Pither's aircraft in order to test the design, and to perhaps finally anwser the question of whether it was capable of flight. Working drawings for this 'new' Pither were created from contemporary newspaper reports and photographs.

Powered by a purpose built reproduction V-4 engine similar to the one Pither developed, this aircraft is over 75 kilograms heavier than the original machine, but as seen at this video clip it's certainly capable of making it into the air under its own power, albiet briefly.

After several short test flights, pilot Jerry Chisum noted that the aircraft was stable, and controllable in the air, and that it's performance exceeded his expectations. This, along with the fact that Pither was a top sportsman and businessman in an era when chivalry and honour were highly valued, certainly lends weight to the argument that Bert Pither did in fact produce and fly New Zealands first (airworthy) indigenous aircraft.

The Pither monoplane is put through its paces at the Classic Fighters Airshow, and to the surprise of many, actually gets airbourne.

In November 1910 Pither shipped his aircraft to Melbourne, Australia where he intended to offer it for sale to the Federal Government. He was unsuccesful and was then adjudged bankrupt, having his plane seized for non-payment of customs duty. At the subsequent court case in June 1911, Pither was fined £10 for evading the payment of duty and the aircraft was then returned to New Zealand. The ultimate fate of this original aircraft is unknown.

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