Neil Harrap

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oooh, orphan Neil Harrap (born 9 June 1943) of Wellington, New Zealand is the inventor of the Fly by Wire Ride, an extreme adventure activity in which a rider (the pilot) controls a high speed rocket styled plane.

Early life

Harrap was born in Wellington on 9 June 1943 to Marjorie and Kenneth Harrap, the third of three children. His early life was mixed; an odd child and indifferent student, Harrap left school aged 15 without sitting the School Certificate examination. He was interested in radio and electronics, which led him to build guitar amplifiers for himself and for sale to local bands.[no citations needed here]


He had a musical talent and began playing guitar aged 11. When he was 13 he was invited to join a band, called The Premiers.[1] The band was made up of young church members and Harrap played part-time with them for six years until his electrical apprenticeship ended. His parents had insisted he got some form of trade certificate as he had no other qualifications. This qualification was to later provide him with immigration entry into Canada and the United States in 1965.

Harrap also worked as a session musician playing electric and acoustic guitar with various producers, occasionally double tracking both instruments. In 1964 he was approached by an entrepreneur to start a band for a six nights a week gig. Harrap engaged two experienced musicians, Paul Mugglestone and Puni Solomon (formerly of the Invaders). He also coaxed Bruno Lawrence, then a recording session drummer, to join the band. The first of the second generation bands, it was formed from the two top bands of this early rock era. Named The Measles as a counter to all the flashier names of the time.[no citations needed here]

The band performed live at the Sorrento 32 hours a week with only a ten-minute break per hour. The Sorrento was a scrappy coffee bar/nightclub that was frequented by late nighters, prostitutes and losers. After six months Harrap quit, deciding that rock music in that milieu wasn't his future.[no citations needed here]

Within weeks of quitting in January 1965, aged 21, he left New Zealand for Australia and the United States with his good friend, David Schlegel. Harrap did not return to New Zealand for nearly five years. He has based himself in Wellington all his life, but during many visits he has spent about twenty years in the United States.[no citations needed here]

United States

In Australia he scoured the ports of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane to find a ship with a job to take him to the United States. The MV Crystal Sea, berthed in Sydney had an opening, as instructed by the Captain he returned the next morning only to find the ship had sailed during the night to Brisbane. Not to miss out on the opportunity, Harrap hitch-hiked the 1000 km to Brisbane travelling all day and night to confront a somewhat bemused Captain the next morning. Ah, the boy from Sydney! said the Skipper. Harrap replied Yes, I've come about the job. He got it. The airfare to the United States in 1965 cost the equivalent of about two years wages.[no citations needed here]

The ship took Harrap to New York via Panama, Charleston, Norfolk, and Philadelphia. In New York Harrap signed off and had a month to find another ship. Instead, after travelling to Washington, D.C. for his mail and to see the Capital, he hitch hiked to Canada where he was able to enter and work as an immigrant. He worked as an electrician in Toronto.[no citations needed here]

Harrap travelled around the US and Canada for the next four and a half years living in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Charleston SC, Denver, and New Orleans. It was during this time he imported a dilapidated 1936 Jaguar SS100 from New Zealand, taught himself how to restore it and sold it for a profit. He later said that this experience was a pivotal lesson in life.[no citations needed here]


While in Charleston in 1966, Harrap discovered a talent for sketching and for two years supported himself with sales of pen and ink artwork in Denver and later New Orleans. After sketching most of the important homes in the historic Garden District, New Orleans for the owners, he used the sketches in a book, the first of two illustrated books, The Garden District of New Orleans. It was self-published in 1969 and sold 3000 copies.[no citations needed here]

Moving back to New York, Harrap began his second book Rambling Round New York, a series of illustrations of Manhattan buildings and icons. After this was published he completed a commission of high quality pen and ink illustrations for a book on churches and cathedrals in New York for Vincent Smith, however, the book was never published.[no citations needed here]

On returning to New Zealand in 1970 Harrap began sketching houses and churches but found the market too small. He then began a tiny antique shop specialising in copper and brass antiques, kerosene lamps, brass beds, ornaments and copper kettles. The shop flourished, and after four years he sold it. In 1974 Harrap left New Zealand again for a five-month hitch-hiking trip around the world via Mexico, the United States, Europe, and India.[no citations needed here]

On his return Harrap continued to restore his buildings and in 1976 he became infatuated with skiing, describing skis as the wings of man. From that time forward at least two months and up to four months a year was devoted to skiing at Coronet Peak and Snowbird, Utah. He received ski instructor certification in 1980 after completing the instructor training course at Coronet Peak, Queenstown.[no citations needed here]

In 1982, drawing on his experience in restoration and publishing, Harrap produced a how-to book titled Buying and Restoring a House. The book was aimed at the many people then attracted to restoring historic houses. It quickly sold 5000 copies.[2]

Building restoration

Harrap is also known for his restoration of historic buildings, mainly in the Thorndon area of Wellington. Starting in 1972, he restored a number of small cottages before buying his first commercial building in 1977 to build the Mount Cook Café in 1978. The first of the modern era of cafés, it was wildly successful and quickly attracted imitators.[no citations needed here]

By 1983 Harrap had begun a series of commercial property purchases on Tinakori Road, Thorndon, that accelerated the restoration of this once decrepit neighbourhood. As the neighbourhood became 'gentrified' Harrap developed cafés and high end retail shops, at one point owning seven buildings housing eight retail shops and three restaurants.[no citations needed here]

Harrap also focused his attention on St Mary Street in Thorndon in which his first cottages were located. On completing the restoration of his first two cottages in 1974, he built ten brick tree planters in the street, the trees are now fully grown. Realising that the street was a completely original example of 19th century architecture worthy of preservation he set out to buy and protect the four properties with large land areas that were most at risk of demolition and redevelopment.[no citations needed here]

Much of the restoration work in St Mary Street was carried out during the severe recession that hit NZ after the 1987 property market collapse when many builders were out of work.[no citations needed here]

The properties at 14, 5a, 5b and 5c, and 7 St Mary Street were subsequently protected by restrictive covenants. The last property at risk was 18/20 St Mary Street which Harrap secured around 1999. The original house circa1860 was replicated and two replica cottages added in the style of 8 St Mary Street.[no citations needed here]

Fly by Wire Ride

The Fly by Wire Ride concept came to Harrap in the middle of the night in 1997. He imagined a giant swing that would be steerable and follow a flight path controlled by the pilot. He tested the idea in scale first, and then engaged an air force aeronautical engineer, John ten Have, to design and develop the plane. The first ride was built in secret in Paekakariki, 30 km north of Wellington, after an application to build in Queenstown had been blocked by bungee interests there. During development Harrap placed public notices describing the activity on Perkin's farm as "aeronautical research" to discourage curiosity among the locals.[no citations needed here]


The plane is supported from a 'bridge' of cables above by a 9.5mm (3/8") cable up to 105m (340') long, though the 55 m (170') is the height of the standard Fly by Wire Ride.

The plane has the appearance of a 4m long (13') rocket and the pilot has controls on board including the throttle and steering. Using these controls the pilot determines the flight path and can reach speeds of up to 165 km/h (100 mph). The Fly by Wire ride has been featured on more than eighty television programs including Jeremy Clarkson's BBC Speed Series.[3][4]

The ride was in a valley up a long path through a narrow ravine and everything had to be carried in or lifted in by helicopter. The crew built a shack and specialist drillers built anchors into the rock walls to support the 200m (650') long overhead cable structure 55m (170') above the ground. The cable down to the plane was a mere 9.5mm (3/8") diameter; almost invisible at a distance, adding to the illusion of flight. All the work was carried out under the supervision of registered engineers.[no citations needed here]

A period of fine-tuning the plane and systems followed and after months of on-site tests the ride was perfected and Harrap revealed it to the local authorities in a video. An extremely supportive Kapiti Mayor Brett Ambler told him: "We will do whatever it takes to get you the consent to operate this attraction as a public ride". The ride was new and radical and it attracted television cameras from around the world. CNN broadcast Fly by Wire video repeatedly as their Travel Story of the Week and the story was shown on news programs around the world. However, owing to the difficult walk-up access the ride was never commercially successful.[5][6][7]

In 1999 Harrap built a new ride, this time 105m high, developed in a valley near the airport at Queenstown NZ. Because the ride had no noise, visual impact or loss of amenity outside the property the consent application could not be denied. However, the Queenstown Lakes District Council tried to impose conditions to make things as difficult as possible but the law was clear and the ride was built as intended. It was a very strange attitude from a town that billed itself as "The Adventure Capital of the World".[no citations needed here]

Texas Fly by Wire

The following year Harrap located a US tower company that was willing to design and build a four tower support system 60m (200') high. This meant that the ride could be built anywhere on flat land and although it wasn't the best venue, three rides were built outside Fort Worth, Texas.[no citations needed here]

The tower company incurred repeated delays and the rides were finally completed in September 2000 at the end of the summer amusement park season rather than in May as had been promised. The rides were amazing; the planes soared high over the Texas prairie providing views to Dallas, Fort Worth and beyond. Some guests would ride repeatedly; it was an adrenaline rush beyond any ride that Harrap had previously built.[8]

In his desire to develop a ‘terrain-following’ flight path, Harrap had ordered 5m deep holes excavated so the plane could fly close to the ground before streaking up through the surrounding trees into wide open spaces. Trees were trimmed to conform to the flight path; on occasion a leaf or two was found attached to the underside of the plane. This was the most exciting ride system Harrap had built and it began to draw crowds just as winter was closing in.[no citations needed here]

Harrap returned to NZ after the rides had been operating for three weeks and a week later a major storm hit the area dumping 19" (.5m) of rain on to the site in 24 hours. Pumps that were designed to drain the excavations were overwhelmed as mud washed in from the high embankments around them. Mud accumulated to 3m (10') deep, burying the automatic tethering system and hydraulic lifts that raised the pilot to the plane. This type of hydraulic system was never used again; operationally it was a total failure.[no citations needed here]

Harrap flew to Texas and repair work was proceeding, crews were busy digging out ten feet of mud in all the ride excavations. However, the TFBW Texas partners, (Harrap's lawyer, the tower company owner and the landowner) had found themselves out of their depth and immediately after Harrap flew home they abandoned the rides, failing even to remove the planes to safe storage. Each of them lost $200,000 by walking away from their responsibilities; Harrap dropped over two million dollars.[no citations needed here]

After much phone stalling by the Texans, Harrap flew over unannounced, drove to the site and saw that work had stopped the day he'd left. The buildings had been removed by the rental company and the site was in total disrepair. The situation left Harrap exposed as he was unable to finance the repairs having paid $2m for the tower systems and planes.[no citations needed here]

The towers were eventually repossessed by the tower company when Harrap was unable to make the final $20,000 payment and were sold. It was a tough introduction to Texas and a financial hit that set Harrap back for many years.[no citations needed here]

Queenstown winch failure

It was around this time that a winch failure at Fly by Wire Queenstown resulted in a serious injury to a Swedish guest. Though the winch had been examined and tested by registered engineers and OSH because of a minor failure, within a week a major failure resulted in the plane striking the handrail around the loading deck on top of the building. It was a miracle that no-one was killed but the injuries were serious and the woman guest pilot underwent several operations to repair a badly broken arm.[no citations needed here]

The ride was closed for nearly four months while authorities dithered. A new, fully qualified engineer was engaged to completely redesign the winch system from the ground up. OSH had certified the previous winch even though it was seriously deficient. Fly by Wire were seriously let down by OSH and the engineering consultants (who after the crash revealed they actually didn't have any mechanical engineering qualifications).[no citations needed here]

The combined failures led to the serious injury accident and a huge setback for the Fly by Wire Ride future. The ride re-opened and management began to slowly grow the business but the accident had destroyed the Fly by Wire ride's reputation. Nervous sales agents in Queenstown were advising adventure seeking guests against the ride experience. The company struggled with heavy losses for many years before Harrap leased the entire business to a Queenstown adventure operator. They ran it for 18 months until a key employee resigned and management found they were unqualified to maintain the ride planes and equipment. They abandoned the ride, damaging the reputation as they closed it by stating that there were "safety issues" with the ride. Harrap had not been notified until media called him so the damage was done and the ride never re-opened.[no citations needed here]

After the Texas debacle and the Queenstown fiasco Harrap sold a large share of the patented ride to investor friends. He also sold many of his commercial buildings, the last of them just before the property market collapsed in 2008.[no citations needed here]


Over the years there has been widespread interest in the Fly by Wire Ride from entrepreneurs and media, but with the closing of Fly by Wire Queenstown the ride went into limbo. From around the world business people sought to buy a ride system and Harrap was invited to visit many countries including the US, Korea, Australia and Belize but without success.[no citations needed here]

A visit to Turkey, has resulted in plans for a Fly by Wire Ride to be built there but this has yet to be confirmed. The Turkish company will become the exclusive distributors of the Fly by Wire Ride throughout the Middle East and Europe. Harrap expects that a successful ride in a popular year around destination, will result in the Fly by Wire Ride activity expanding across the region and into other parts of the world.[9]


Harrap kept the family home at 11 St Mary Street which they now operate as a Bed and Breakfast for discerning guests. Gardens Homestay books around 70 to 80 nights a year with a minimum of a two night stay. This makes every visit a special occasion for the guests and the hosts.[10][11]Template:Verify credibility