The Connecticut Senate said the Wright brothers were not the first to achieve powered flight. In a sneaky after-midnight move on Wednesday night, they passed a bill that stripped the recognition from Orville and Wilbur Wright and assigned it to Gustave Whitehead.
Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist or anything, but aviation pioneer Whitehead performed his first experimental flights over…wait for it…the great state of Connecticut.
Wilbur and Orville Wright were from Ohio and performed their own experiments at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Actually, I think it has been widely recognized for decades that the Wright brothers weren’t the first to build experimental aircraft. And I’m pretty sure that the esteemed Mr. Whitehead wasn’t either.
There are a number of records of manned flights taking place in the 1890s, well before either Gustave Whitehead or the Wright Brothers took to the air.
But if the Connecticut Senate wants to pick and choose who is remembered by aviation history, then by gosh and by gum, it might as well be the guy from Connecticut.
The famous flight for which the Wright brothers are recognized is the Dec. 17, 1903 52-second flight which went 852 yards — often (and clearly incorrectly) called “the first in flight” as seen on North Carolina state license plates.
An aviation historian John Brown has convinced Connecticut legislators that Whitehead flew on Aug. 14, 1901 on his bird called “The Condor,” a forerunner of his “Albatros” that I show in the photo below.
The Smithsonian Museum has their own opinion. Tom Crouch, senior curator of aviation, told Fox News that history is history and not a matter of opinion: “You don’t legislate history. History is a process. People make up their minds based, I hope, on some thought given to the evidence.”
More telling, though, is that Brown has also convinced leading aviation publisher Jane’s to call Whitehead the first. Flight buffs don’t much care what a bunch of politicians think, but they do care that Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft has now assigned credit for the first powered flight to Whitehead.
The Connecticut governor will likely sign the law passed by the Connecticut senate next week. But the Wright Brothers will retain credit for their actual achievement — the invention of the three-axis control steering still standard on fixed-wing aircraft to this day.
[Gustave Whitehead and his Albatros aircraft by an unknown photographer courtesy Wikimedia Commons]
[Wright Brothers National Memorial photo courtesy Bluesnote via Wikimedia Commons]