On December 17th, 1903, the Wright Brothers from Ohio in the United States successfully made the first-ever powered flight, but it was 1907 before the first attempts were made in Great Britain and Harry Ferguson was determined to be the first in Ireland. He was just one of many young men to become fascinated by aviation although one of his main competitors for the honour of making Ireland's first flight was a woman called Lilian Bland.
BUILDING THE FIRST PLANE
The exploits of the Wright Brothers fascinated the young Harry and, during subsequent years, he visited a number of air shows and exhibitions. Two he attended, in 1909, were Rheims and Blackpool where he took measurements from the aircraft there. On his return to Belfast, he persuaded his brother Joe that it would be good publicity for their motor garage business to build and fly planes. In the latter half of 1909, construction took place, with various changes and improvements being made as work progressed, one being the replacement of the original Green engine by an eight-cylinder, air-cooled, 35hp JAP engine.
THE FIRST FLIGHT
By November 1909, Harry had designed a monoplane which was fitted with a V8 35hp JAP engine, construction of which was completed later that month. The day of the first flight attempt arrived and, with wings detached and the tail resting in the back of a car, the aircraft was towed through the streets of Belfast to Hillsborough Great Park. This first attempt failed, due in part to propeller trouble then, after it was replaced, because of unsuitable weather conditions. Over succeeding weeks, he tried again, his first successful flight of 130 yards in length being made on December 31st, 1909.
OTHER AVIATION FIRSTS
Harry was responsible for other Irish aviation firsts too. For instance, he took up the first lady passenger in Ireland, a very brave (or foolhardy) woman called Rita Marr, who travelled from Liverpool to make the flight on August 23rd, 1910. That same year, Harry made a flight along Newcastle beach, to win a £100 prize offered by the town's Sport’s Committee for the first powered flight over a minimum distance of two miles. His first attempt ended badly but he persevered and, eventually, according to a contemporary newspaper report, "He flew a distance of almost three miles along the foreshore at a low altitude varying between 50 and 150 feet". This event is commemorated by a simple stone memorial on Newcastle North Promenade.
ADDITIONAL FERGUSON MONOPLANES
Harry, like some other early aviators, built and modified at least seven Ferguson monoplanes before moving on to the agricultural inventions for which he became justly famous.