Thursday, 20 September 2018

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Tribute to a good friend of Whitianga

When Ivan Mudrovcich passed away on 20 July this year after a year-long battle with cancer, the world lost a brilliant engineer and Whitianga lost a good friend. Ivan was 80 years old.

Fourteen years ago, Ivan, who lived in Auckland with his wife Janet, set out to prove that New Zealander Richard Pearse may well have made the world's first sustained and controlled flight in a flying machine. Ivan believed Pearse managed this even before the American brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright. It's claimed that Pearse flew an aircraft he designed and built on 31 March 1903 at Waitohi, approximately 15km west of Temuka in South Canterbury.

"Ivan was so captivated by the genius of Richard Pearse," says Janet. "He saw a man living in a remote area of New Zealand achieving things that really should have been impossible given his circumstances."

Ivan's initial focus was on replicating Pearse's engine. To do so, he relied on a patented design of Pearse's aeroplane and several letters Pearse wrote about his invention. However, a few years into the project, Ivan decided to build the entire Pearse aeroplane.

Ivan chose the Whitianga Airport as the location for the first flight of his Pearse aeroplane. In April 2016, the aeroplane was shipped to Whitianga in a container, and Ivan, Janet, and a group of friends spent several days getting the aeroplane flight ready. The pilot was to be Neville Hay, a retired Air New Zealand pilot and one of Ivan's good friends.

Unfortunately, what was to be the final paragraph in a remarkable story became the penultimate paragraph. Ivan suffered an unfortunate health setback while fine tuning the engine just before the flight, and he had to be airlifted to hospital. That caused the flight attempt to be abandoned and the aeroplane was shipped back to Auckland.

"Once we'd returned home from Whitianga, Ivan decided to do more work on the engine before another flight attempt," says Janet. "He slowed down when he was diagnosed with cancer, mostly so that him and I could make the most of our time together, but on 12 June this year the engine had its best run ever. It once again made me realise what a wonderful, talented man he was."

At Ivan's funeral, it wasn’t just his abilities as an engineer that were celebrated, but also his conviction to stand up for those who found it difficult fending for themselves. Ivan’s son Bruce revealed that Ivan was the "mystery man" who cut the wires that allowed the pitch invasion to take place at the 1981 rugby test in Hamilton between the All Blacks and the Springboks.

Ivan and Janet's other son, also named Ivan, and his 12-year-old son Joseph have both taken a keen interest in Ivan's Pearse aeroplane. "I'm not sure if the aeroplane will ever fly," says Janet. "Our son, and grandson have no doubt the engine is strong enough to cause the aeroplane to lift off the ground. But now that my husband isn't with us anymore, we don't want to cause any damage to the plane. Maybe we can find a place where the plane can be displayed for the whole world to appreciate."

Janet says Ivan was very fond of Whitianga. "When we were in the town in April 2016, we were treated like celebrities," she says. "The interest in the aeroplane and Ivan's work was overwhelming. Ivan often spoke of the friendliness and generosity of the people, and we stayed in touch with several of the people we met while we were getting the aeroplane ready to fly."

Undoubtedly, wherever Ivan Mudrovcich's Richard Pearse aeroplane may end up one day, after it has flown or not, Whitianga will always be part of the history of the plane. It will be good to be the final chapter, but in this instance, in the life and work of a brilliant man, the penultimate chapter will be good enough.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.