Connecticut lays claims to N.C. first

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License plates in North Carolina may be forced to undergo redesign if new research gains ground suggesting that the Wright Brothers weren’t the first in flight. An article published last week in Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft advances a claim that Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant to Connecticut, made the first powered and controlled flight on August 14, 1901, two years prior to Orville Wright’s taking to the air at Kitty Hawk. According to Jane’s, Whitehead built an aircraft with two acetylene-fueled engines. The Condor, as his plane was named, had a 10 horsepower motor for the wheels and a 20 horsepower engine as the main source of forward flight. (unfortunately the full article is behind a paywall):

In the early hours of 14 August 1901, the Condor propelled itself along the darkened streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut, with Whitehead, his staff and an invited guest in attendance. In the still air of dawn, the Condor’s wings were unfolded and it took off from open land at Fairfield, 15 miles from the city, and performed two demonstration sorties. The second was estimated as having covered 1 1/2 miles at a height of 50 feet, during which slight turns in both directions were demonstrated.

Historians have long known about an account of Whitehead’s flight in the Bridgeport Herald. But photographic evidence didn’t exist until recently, when a Bavarian amateur historian discovered a photograph of a 1906 exhibition on flight that included a picture of what appears to be Whitehead’s Condor in flight.

A top official at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum says he’ll wait for further evidence before changing his–and the institution’s–stance that Orville and Wilbur Wright are responsible for the first powered flight.

Perhaps Bridgeport mayor Bill Finch is showing the true skills of a politician. He told NPR that Connecticut’s license plate could read “Firster in Flight.” That seems to leave room for “First in Flight” to remain on N.C. plates.

6 thoughts on “Connecticut lays claims to N.C. first”

  1. If we investigate just a little further, I’m remembering that one of the key criticisms of Whitehead’s flight is the concept of “controlled” flight.

    If my history is correct, Whitehead — although flying two sorties, depended essentially on “weight shifting”/balance for his limited direction control. And then, for such an astonishing achievement, there’s a two year absence???

    I’m aware that also in history, we learn the Wright’s were amazingly successful in promoting and securing their “exclusive” and “first” status………but without more than this story, I’ll stick with the Wright’s and Kitty Hawk.

  2. “History by Contract” published in 1978 by Col. William O’Dwyer did a full investigation of this claim. His conclusion was that the Smithsonian had a contract with the Wright Family that prevents them from ever recognizing Whiteheads accomplishments or they will lose the Wright Flyer.

  3. They’re still upset over North Carolina taking the Whalers away from them. Just another pathetic attempt to discredit our state…lol.

  4. Thanks for sharing the link John, I guess the acquisition of the title is over. Wright brothers are still the firsts.

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