October 25, 2013
North Carolina, Ohio team up to
dispute Connecticut’s first flight claim
BY CATHERINE KOZAK
tale of Gustave Whitehead and his flying machine might be the zombie
version of aviation history -- it was killed long ago, but it keeps
In an effort to slay Connecticut’s persistent
claim that the German immigrant flew the first manned flight two years
before the Wright brothers, the First Flight Foundation called its
partner in all things Wright, the National Aviation Heritage Alliance
of Dayton, to hold a joint press conference on Thursday with Ohio state
Rep. Richard Perales and North Carolina state Sen. Bill Cook.
every few years, the Whitehead claim resurfaces and then fades away
again,” Perales said from the Wright “B” Flyer hangar at Dayton-Wright
Brothers Airport near Dayton, speaking via Skype to reporters and Cook
at Kill Devil Hills Town Hall. “We talked about letting this go, but
when our fellow legislators made this law, we had to stand up.”
June, state lawmakers in Connecticut passed a bill that proclaimed an
annual Powered Flight Day “to honor the first powered flight by Gustave
Whitehead reportedly flew his movable wing
aircraft as high as 50 feet for nearly 2 miles over Bridgeport, Conn.,
on Aug. 14, 1901. Whitehead supporters, which inexplicably include
aviation journal “Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft,” say there is a
photograph –albeit fuzzy - to prove it.
“I don’t know about
you, but I looked at this real hard,” Cook said, holding up a copy of
the photograph, an indistinguishable white shadow. “I think it’s a
There is, however, a very clear photograph of
Connecticut U.S. Sen. Hiram Bingham standing next to Orville Wright at
the 1928 dedication of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. Bingham,
along with North Carolina Rep. Lindsay Warren, had introduced the
legislation that established the park to preserve the place where
Cook, a Beaufort County Republican, said that
the General Assembly had passed a joint resolution in 1985 repudiating
Whitehead’s claim, and there’s no need to do it again.
“This is one of those issues that people think is so silly,” he said. “It’s almost beneath recognizing.”
insistence that Whitehead deserves the credit for the first powered
flight was roundly dismissed in a statement signed by 34 aviation
historians and experts.
“Whitehead’s claims were rejected by
local newspapers and by individuals in the best position to judge,
including virtually all of those who funded his experiments,” the
“Whitehead left no letters, diaries,
notebooks, calculations, or drawings recording his experiments, his
thoughts, or details of his craft.”
Two men separately called into the press conference from Connecticut to disparage their state’s stand.
me apologize to the people of North Carolina and Ohio for this Wright
brothers heresy,” said Carl Stindsen, a research historian associated
with the New England Aviation Museum.
Stindsen, who said he was
not speaking for the museum, said that the only people in Connecticut
who take any of this seriously are “about 30 people in Bridgeport.”
“The vast majority of people in the great state of Connecticut don’t believe Whitehead did anything.”
Gray, the author of a scathing article about the claim published
Tuesday in The Huffington Post, said that he and others are actively
working to debunk Whitehead, and posed a question about tinkering with
such important stories.
“Should history be overtly political like this?” Gray asked.
and Perales agreed that if there were sound evidence to dispute the
1903 flight by the Wrights, they would accept it. But the history of
the Wrights has stood the test of time.
“I hope that somebody in Bridgeport is listening,” Cook said, “and sees how embarrassing this is to them.”
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