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Centenary of the day the first local man took to the skies

100th Anniversary of Ferguson's first flight at Hillsborough is celebrated

Harry Ferguson pictured in 1909 after he became the first Irishman to design, build and fly an aircraft. US3309-550cdDECEMBER 31 2009 held more significance than just being the last day of the decade - it was also the 100th Anniversary of the first powered flight in Ireland, when local inventor Harry Ferguson took to the skies over Hillsborough.

The man probably still best remembered for the invention of the Ferguson tractor, followed in the footsteps of the Wright brothers on December 31 1909, when the daring aviator got his his aircraft, a monoplane, into the air from a field belonging to the Marquis of Downshire. Newspapers reported on the first flight on 1 January, 1910 noting that the plane travelled about 130 yards.

The plane was made in Belfast, with the exception of the 8 cylinder English made J.A.P. engine.

Ernie Cromie of the Ulster Aviation Society said Harry Ferguson had essentially designed and built his own plane in a year.

"The engine was 35 horse power, even for a car nowadays that isn't much, but no-one was building engines specifically for planes," he said.

"Harry tuned and worked with that engine so that it would have enough power to get his aircraft up."

Ferguson is now best known for inventing the three-point linkage system for tractors, which revolutionised that industry. However, in 1909 the press were following his inventions and talking about how he would be airborne before the year was out. They were right.

The sound of the engine was described as being "like a Gatling machine-gun" due to its absence of a silencer.

"The history of aeroplaning in this country will date from 31st December 1909 a date that should be easily remembered," one paper said.

In 1910 the first public flight was made on Newcastle beach in County Down and the Harry Ferguson Memorial group intend to mark the centenary of this event later in the year.

Ulster Star