States fight claim that CT resident flew 1st

Gustave Whitehead and his flying machine.

Gustave Whitehead and his flying machine.

Who’s Wright or wrong?

The 110-year-old fight over who flew first will get a bit heated today.

In one corner stands the state of Connecticut that claims German-born aviator and Bridgeport resident Gustave Whitehead successfully flew his plane in 1901 – two years before Wilbur and Orville Wright got their plane off the ground.

Last summer, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a state law, passed by the General Assembly, stating that Whitehead flew first.

The law reads: The Governor shall proclaim a date certain in each year as Powered Flight Day to honor the first powered flight by [the Wright brothers] Gustave Whitehead and to commemorate the Connecticut aviation and aerospace industry.”

The story goes that the Wright Brothers family made a deal with the Smithsonian that would credit Orville and Wilbur Wright as the first flight pioneers. In exchange, the Smithsonian would get to display the plane.

Ohio, where the Wright brothers lived, has license plates proclaiming the state is the “Birthplace of Aviation.”

Orville and Wilbur Wright's plane flew first in 1903, two years after Gustrave Whitehead's flight, his supporters say.

Orville and Wilbur Wright’s plane took flight in 1903, two years after Gustrave Whitehead’s flight, his supporters say.

And in North Carolina, where the Wrights tested their plane at Kitty Hawk in 1903, license plates state the state is “First in Flight.”

Today, state lawmakers in both Ohio and North Carolina have called  news conferences to dispute the Connecticut claim.

North Carolina Sen. Bill Cook will hold a news conference with Ohio state Rep. Rick Perales to stand up for the Wright Brothers as the first to accomplish controlled, heavier-than-air, powered and sustained flight.  The news conference will be (where else) in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Whitehead claim took on added credibility this year when Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, an industry publication, cited contemporary news accounts in concluding Whitehead was first.

Here are some links to previous Connecticut Post stories on the who flew first dispute:

Aviation bible: Whitehead flew first

Gustave Whitehead created a flew a plane over Bridgeport before the Wright Brothers got off the ground

Historian: Smithsonian aviation curator should resign

The debate continues: Who flew first? The view from Whitehead’s town in Germany.


Jim Shay