Friday, June 7, 2013

Wright Brothers Stripped of Their Title

Gustave Whitehead and his first flying machine, 1901
The Wright Brothers were stripped of their “First in Flight” title this week by the state of Connecticut, when the senate passed a bill declaring that Gustave Whitehead flew his “Condor” plane over the town of Bridgeport, Connecticut on August 14, 1901. The plane took flight on wooden wheels and canvas bat-like wings, when it flew an estimated 1.5 miles at an altitude of 50 feet during the early morning. At least that’s what aviation historian, John Brown claims, and the Connecticut senate was shown enough photographic evidence to believe him.
The flight in Whitehead’s plane is said to have taken place two years, four months and three days before the Wright Brothers launched their flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903. The 59-second flight traveled 852 feet, earning them their title. However, historians have long known that other men had been working on their own flying machines during that period, including German born Gustave Weisskopf (renamed Whitehead).

Whitehead's bird-like plane titled No. 21

Historian Brown revealed in March 2013 what he calls photographic proof that Whitehead did indeed accomplish the first flight in this country in 1901. He told news sources this week that he didn't know whether this fall’s school books would be reprinted to include the new revelation. But the Smithsonian Museum historians, curators of the Wright Brother’s plane, are understandably skeptical of Brown’s claims. The 1948 contract between Orville Wright and the Smithsonian mandates that The Wright Flyer be called the first real airplane.

North Carolina car licenses plates carry the slogan “First in Flight,” so a verbal battle royal may take place between the two states if Connecticut Governor Daniel P. Malloy decides to sign the bill into law.

House Bill No. 6671 declares that: “The governor shall proclaim a certain date each year as Powered Flight Day to honor the first powered flight by Gustave Whitehead and to commemorate the Connecticut aviation and aerospace industry,”

“There’s no question that the Wright Brothers will retain their place in aviation history,” Connecticut Republican state Senator Mike McLachian said. “And rightfully so. They just weren’t first.”


June Shaw said...

Goodness. I didn't know that. Don't know whether I like it or not... but it is.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I would love to see the negative for that photo. The climb angle seems exceptional for an aircraft of that period. Interesting article, Jean.

Jean Henry Mead said...

It's an inteesting theory, June, but I'm not sure I buy it. It's entirely possible but why hasn't it come to light sooner?

Jean Henry Mead said...

I wondered about that too, Mark. I also wondered about the yellow color of the plane. I know color photograhy was an experiemental process as early as the 1840s but wasn't available to the public until some hundred years later, although photographers/atrists did use a tinting compound to add color to black and white photgraphs.