Connecticut Honors Whitehead's 'First Flight'

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The State of Connecticut has stepped into the simmering controversy over who was actually the first to take a controlled, powered flight by honoring a native son who some believe beat the Wright brothers by two years. Gustave Whitehead will be honored by state officials in Bridgeport Aug. 14 on the 116th anniversary of what some believe was a half-mile flight at 50 feet in nearby Fairfield. The honor is likely to reignite the debate over Whitehead’s alleged flight, which had a lot of witnesses but no photographic proof, only an artist’s rendering in a local newspaper.

The governments of North Carolina and Ohio are also likely to have something to say about the Bridgeport ceremony. Both consider themselves the crucible of aviation, North Carolina because of the Kitty Hawk flight, Ohio because it’s where the Wrights did all the construction and development work. In 2013 Paul Jackson, the editor of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, wrote a column supporting the notion that Whitehead beat the Wrights but the publication itself has distanced itself from that opinion.

Comments (3)

If eyewitness accounts were as reliable back then as they are today, I would be a little skeptical of it actually happening as reported. Whether he actually flew or not is rather immaterial. The Wright brothers developed the technology of flight and went on to perfect it to a high level. Their work laid the groundwork for much of modern aviation. If Mr. Whitehead was the first to actually fly, where did he go from there? Was there a second flight, or a third? Did he contribute anything to the science of aeronautics or was it a one-time fluke? In the long run it appears he did nothing to really advance aviation.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 14, 2017 2:34 PM    Report this comment

His "aircraft" was a lot like Langley's; patterned more after ships of the era. The bad aerodynamics were compounded by the fact that Whitehead had zero flying experience at all. I kinda doubt that it would have even run along the ground for 1/2 mile (considering that it was not-in-control during all phases of motion). It's fanciful and romantic, but not an airplane.

The Wrights not only had previous flying experience in their gliders but also made every effort to optimize their powered craft by constant experimentation. They also had witnesses and photographic evidence. Any sane and rational person gives the Wrights the credit for making the shift from era of "fanciful" to the science of "flight".

Posted by: Mark Fraser | August 14, 2017 6:28 PM    Report this comment

As a resident of Connecticut, color me embarrassed....

The best quote I read about the Wright brothers was by, I think, Tom Crouch: In 1902 there were 1.6 billion people on Earth. Only two were on the correct path to building an airplane.

Posted by: Kirk Wennerstrom | August 14, 2017 7:04 PM    Report this comment

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