Who made the first flight in New Zealand? Herbert J. Pither swore to journalists that he did, on July 5, 1910, at remote Oreti Beach, with no witnesses present. Yet Rosemarie Smith, who spent years researching Pither for the Croydon Aviation Heritage Trust, said Pither never repeated his original statement, and late in life—by which time the legend had grown to include multiple flights at lofty heights—he denied it altogether.
We do know that Pither was a bicycle-frame maker with a shop specializing in boat engines, so he had expertise in both framing and propulsion to use in constructing an airplane. He produced a variant of a design by Frenchman Louis Blériot, making a frame of steel tube and wooden ribs and covering it with fabric. The pilot would control yaw with a tail rudder connected to a foot pedal, achieve lateral stability by warping the trailing edges of the wings with a steering wheel, and control the craft vertically by raising or lowering the elevator with a lever. Pither fitted bicycle wheels with shock absorbers to the undercarriage, and powered the craft with a four-cylinder, 40-hp engine.
Whether Pither actually flew or not, says Smith, after 1910 he never again designed an aircraft.
Flying called to Stefan Kozlowski, who left auto mechanics in 1909 to enroll in a German flight school. After earning his pilot’s certificate, he designed his own machine, a biplane with dual powerplants in a tractor configuration. The wings were inspired by the rectangular, rounded-tip wing structure of a Blériot XI.
Advised by a Czech engineer named Skopik, Kozlowski bought parts from France and Germany to assemble in a Warsaw lumberyard. His biplane was powered by a six-cylinder, 60-hp Anzani engine. During flight tests Kozlowski snapped the chain drives for the two tractor airscrews, so he replaced them with ropes leading from the engine shaft and then crossing, in the style of Wright biplanes, to counter-rotate the wood props. Kozlowski discovered that the Blériot-style wing struts were not rigid enough to cut vibration, so he replaced the pine with ash, and adjusted the position of the engine.
His design was spare and elegant, with no vertical stabilizer but with elevons on the wing, which could tilt one at a time for directional control normally provided by the tail. Maneuvered in opposite directions from each other, the elevons acted as ailerons for banking. When moved up to 60 degrees in concert, they functioned as air brakes.
In June 1910, Kozlowski made six flights: He never rose more than 10 feet, but he got up to 100 feet in distance.
Finding the machine tail-heavy, he planned to add vertical and horizontal stabilizers. But in a flight test, the wing hit a dirt mound, leaving Kozlowski with minor cuts and bruises and his machine a wreck. His investors refused to pay for repairs, and by the autumn of 1910 they had stripped his machine of all salable parts. Understandably, Kozlowski retired from airplane building.
Another Pole, Henryk Brzeski, an engineer working in Vienna, devised an ingenious rotary engine; at the same time, in Krakow, Poland, the Schindler brothers—Wincenty, a mechanic, and Rudolf, an entrepreneurial inventor—built a scale model for a three-seat, high-wing monoplane, the Aquila (Falcon). In October 1909 they sent it into flight.
Bolstered by the small-scale success, the brothers tried a full-size machine, comparable to the Kozlowski design in that it lacked vertical tail surfaces, and the Schindlers teamed with Brzeski to begin work in Vienna. The Aquila’s triangle-shaped bamboo frame had been braced by wire, and flight would be controlled by linking the wing- and tail-warping mechanisms to an inclined steering wheel. The aircraft would be powered by