June 27, 2013
By Jim Moore
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has sided with those who believe Gustave Whitehead, not the Wright brothers, was the first to achieve powered flight.
A gubernatorial spokesman confirmed a report by The Associated Press that Malloy has signed the bill passed by state lawmakers eager to proclaim the German-born immigrant and engine-maker as the true father of flight.
Skeptics, including Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, remain unconvinced, noting there are no surviving photographs or film to back up the claim.
Aviation historian John Brown’s research on the topic prompted Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft to begin editing history earlier this year: Whitehead is recognized as first to fly by the centennial edition of the prestigious publication. Crouch published a detailed response challenging Brown’s conclusions, and citing a lack of objective evidence to prove the case.
State lawmakers called their bill an overdue revision of the record.
Malloy’s signature revises a state law stipulating various official state songs (and the official state polka), including the proclamation of a Powered Flight Day that now recognizes Whitehead, who allegedly conducted several flights in southern Connecticut, including flights across Long Island Sound, beginning in 1901.
Volunteers at the Connecticut Air and Space Center in Stratford have built and flown (with a modern engine) a replica of Whitehead’s No. 21, though the museum took no official stance on the legislation. They have accepted an invitation to bring the replica to Simsbury, Conn. for the Simsbury Fly-In on Sept. 15, where it will be on static display with the builder speaking about the controversy during the event.
AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
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