Friday 25th November 2011 – Ernie Patterson – Harry Ferguson and the Century of Flight


The little engine was not much bigger than those used to power lawnmowers but when Ernie Patterson saw it he knew it was exactly what he had been looking for .Around it he constructed a flying machine of light aluminium tubing and material that was to faithfully replicate a significant page of aviation history .

In August 1910 when Harry Ferguson took off from the Dundrum end of the sandy beach and flew three miles to Newcastle he won a prize of £100 and his place in the story of flight. Just a few short months before he had become the first man in Ireland to build and fly his own aeroplane over the grassy hills beside his home at Growell, near Hillsborough.  In 1980, to celebrate the Ferguson Festival in Newcastle, Ernie Patterson retraced his airborne footsteps at the controls of a home built craft with a thirty foot wing span, weighing just 112 lbs and powered by that tiny little engine.

The story of Ferguson’s progression from motor car manufacturer to aeroplane designer and aviator was the subject of a fascinating presentation by Ernie at the Bangor and North Down Camera Club on Friday evening. Beginning with a brief history of flight encompassing European pioneers such as Jacques Henri Lartigue and Louis Bleriot he traced the various stages of development, from the Wright brothers through the exciting landmark flights to the days when Flight Magazine began to publish rough plans of flying machines. In the early days of the twentieth century photography was rapidly developing as well and many designers used the medium to copy other prototypes and produce their own plans. One such was Lilian Bland who lived at Carnmoney, North of Belfast, and this remarkable woman first photographed birds in flight before designing her own craft- the first bi-plane constructed in Ireland. She called it The Mayfly – rather sardonically adding ,” because it may fly and it may not!” It did and she became the first female pilot in Ireland.

Ernie’s comprehensive slide presentation relived the rapid development of flight and photography through the early years of the century until they combined to become a potent weapon in the battles of the Western Front during the First World War. The story of Harry Ferguson then resumed when, during World War Two the government tasked him with solving the problem of increasing the agricultural yield to help feed the country ravaged by war. The story of his famous tractor design is well documented – today over 85% of the world’s tractors use the concepts and systems  he produced and developed back in the thirties and  forties and Ernie’s talk included pictures of the memorial garden at his home near Slieve Croob as well as the celebrations at the Centenary Ferguson Festival held last year at Newcastle.

John Bennett

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