Richard William Pearse's family farm was located at Waitohi, South Island, New Zealand. As a young man, he seems to have been interested in everything mechanical and to have had an aptitude for building mechanical devices and improving existing devices. He is said by others to have become interested in aeronautics in 1899, although he dated his own interest from early in 1904. His flying machine was somewhat reminiscent in layout of the Santos-Dumont Demoiselle of 1906 - 1910, with a two-cylinder engine (which he built) mounted on a monoplane wing above the operator, who sat beneath the engine and wing. This perhaps argues for assigning a later date to Pearse's flights than that claimed by his advocates, March or April of 1903. It appears that Pearse himself never claimed making a flight in 1903, indeed Pearse wrote that he did not fly before Wilbur & Orville Wright. Pearse also was on record stating that he did not fly in his first aerial machine.
The 21 foot wing span machine was mounted on a wheeled tricycle landing gear, with a steerable nose wheel. Controls consisted of small movable inset wing panels, a vertical rudder mounted behind a fixed vertical panel above the flat-section wing and a movable horizontal surface mounted centrally on the rear wing spar. Pearse's flying machine was very short and probably lacked significant stability. The propeller depicted on reconstructions of Pearse's machine as well as the propeller which seems to have been used on his machine were not up to the task of moving a sufficient volume of air to have generated much, if any, thrust. It's notable that, according to witnesses, Pearse's machine made at least a few short glides under power but apparently could not gain altitude or maintain level flight. Some parts and pieces of Pearse's engine and flying machine have survived. In evaluating the claims made on Pearse's behalf by others, it must be remembered that Richard Pearse never sought the title of being "first to fly." Indeed, to be remembered as someone who early on designed and built a flying machine and its engine, which he most certainly did, is honor enough.