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An airtight case for Whitehead?

Historian lays out evidence, seeks more, of first flight in Connecticut

Historian John Brown, who convinced “Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft” to recognize that Gustave Whitehead made the first powered flight in the Bridgeport area, presents more evidence Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Discovery Museum. (John Kovach photo)

Historian John Brown, who convinced “Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft” to recognize that Gustave Whitehead made the first powered flight in the Bridgeport area, presents more evidence Saturday, Aug. 17, at the Discovery Museum. (John Kovach photo)

Evidence that some say could finally give proper credit for the first powered flight in human history to Gustave Whitehead may be among old family papers in an attic or basement in the Bridgeport area.

Historian John Brown — who earlier this year was instrumental in Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft recognizing Whitehead for being the first to fly and apologized for a century-long delay in doing so — asked a crowd of more than 100 packed into a small auditorium at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport Saturday, Aug. 17, to join in the hunt for more eyewitness accounts of Whitehead’s flight.

John Brown, the historian championing the case that Gustave Whitehead of Bridgeport flew two years before the Wright Brothers, chats with some of the more than 100 people who heard him present more evidence at the Discovery Museum Saturday, Aug. 17. (John Kovach photo)

John Brown, the historian championing the case that Gustave Whitehead of Bridgeport flew two years before the Wright Brothers, chats with some of the more than 100 people who heard him present more evidence at the Discovery Museum Saturday, Aug. 17. (John Kovach photo)

Brown also asked residents of Connecticut to put pressure on the Smithsonian through the federal government to investigate, if not recognize, Whitehead’s accomplishments.

Checking credits

Evidence found subsequent to the historic shift by Jane’s was announced Saturday by Brown. While the Wrights had been credited with developing “wing warping,” a means of tugging on wings to control the flight of an aircraft, Brown found a magazine article from Dec. 1. 1902. The Wrights applied for their patent for the process March 23, 1903.

“You can’t change this,” Brown said Saturday. “There it is, indelible. Mr. Whitehead developed wing-warping first.”

In detailed graphics, Brown highlighted lines and wires on Whitehead’s craft and showed connections to controllers. One strongly resembles the joystick familiar to video game players. Another is similar to the windlass found on a boat; Whitehead was a sailor.

Brown also shared details of a letter in which Wilbur Wright talks about how impressive a lightweight engine developed by Whitehead is, and how it would be good for powered flight.

The Smithsonian steadfastly clings to the Wrights’ claims of being first in flight in the shadow of a contract that stipulates that the national museum cannot ever recognize a flight before the Wright Brothers in 1903.

Brown cites as evidence of Whitehead taking off Aug. 14, 1901, an article in the Bridgeport Sunday Herald, plus more than 130 other newspaper articles; 18 eyewitness accounts, including three by justices of the peace and 14 of which were sworn under penalty of law; and a comparison of both aircraft. He presents more evidence at gustave-whitehead.com.

In a side-by-side chart, Brown said Whitehead’s No. 21 contained key design and operation elements found in the modern Boeing 737. The Wrights’ 1903 craft had none.

The 1903 Wright Flyer has been deemed not air worthy by mathematical, scientific, structure and wind tunnel analysis, Brown said. In the 110 years since, no one has flown a replica of the 1903 Wright aircraft.

Brown showed two instances, one at Sikorsky Memorial Airport, in which life-sized replicas of Whitehead’s No. 21 took off and remained airborne in a sustained flight.

‘Iconic’

Actor John Ratzenberger talks to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch during the “First in Flight” event at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport on Saturday, Aug. 17. (John Kovach photo)

Actor John Ratzenberger talks to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch during the “First in Flight” event at the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport on Saturday, Aug. 17. (John Kovach photo)

Lack of photographic evidence of Whitehead’s flight is consistently cited by Tom Crouch, of the National Air & Space Museum at the Smithsonian, as a reason to not recognize the event. Using that standard, Brown contends, Columbus never discovered America and Washington never crossed the Delaware: There are no photos of either.

Now, a copy of a letter sent to Brown calls Crouch’s reliance on the “iconic” photo showing the Wright Flyer several feet off the ground in December, 1903, into question. In correspondence to a New York historian, Crouch answered his own rhetorical query as to whether the photo actually showed sustained flight with, “probably not.”

“I call for the resignation of Tom Crouch,” Brown told the crowd at one of three presentations he gave at the Discovery Museum at its First in Flight event, part of an exhibit at the Park Avenue science center.

Among those in attendance were Andy Kosch, who built and flew a replica of Whitehead’s No. 21 that was displayed in front of the museum; Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch; Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau; state Rep. Tony Hwang; actor John Ratzenberger, a descendent of a Bridgeport police chief who was among the 18 eyewitnesses who saw Whitehead aloft; and members of Whitehead’s family.

Family pride

“I’m proud. I’m happy, but at the same time it’s hard to believe,” said Ron Kusterer of Ansonia, Whitehead’s great-great-grandson. His grandmother was Whitehead’s daughter.

He looked at photos and newspaper clippings from Margaret Lampart of Trumbull, another member of the Whitehead family.

Kusterer credited Kosch, Brown and other local aviation historians for pushing the issue, and making sure the world learns what he has known his entire life.

“The truth will get out,” Kusterer said.

Andy Kosch, who has flown in a replica of Gustave Whitehead’s No. 21, displayed a replica of the craft he and others say made the first powered flight in human history, outside the Discovery Museum Saturday, Aug. 17. (John Kovach photo)

Andy Kosch, who has flown in a replica of Gustave Whitehead’s No. 21, displayed a replica of the craft he and others say made the first powered flight in human history, outside the Discovery Museum Saturday, Aug. 17. (John Kovach photo)

A model of Gustave Whitehead’s No. 21, recognized by “Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft” as the first powered airplane to fly, hangs above the lobby of the Discovery Museum. The Smithsonian refuses to place the plane or Whitehead among its exhibit, contending that there is no proof that he beat the Wright Brothers. (John Kovach photo)

A model of Gustave Whitehead’s No. 21, recognized by “Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft” as the first powered airplane to fly, hangs above the lobby of the Discovery Museum. The Smithsonian refuses to place the plane or Whitehead among its exhibit, contending that there is no proof that he beat the Wright Brothers. (John Kovach photo)

 

 

 

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  • http://www.SpecialBooks.com Douglas Westfall

    Way to go John, you nailed it. — DW

    As a historical publisher, I lean toward the controversial of America’s history: Amelia Earhart Survived, the Discovery of Flight 19, the Taking of Saipan. However, I don’t do the three C’s: Conspiracy, Covert, nor Cover-up. I have enough on my plate.

    But controversy, I’m all in: We need to know that the Civil War was fought over money, that the Dutch Colony on Manhattan Island gave us our Constitutional Bill of Rights, and that the first 50,000 slaves in America — were white Irish Catholics. That Amelia Earhart, John C. Fremont, and George Armstrong Custer were pawns in a larger political game, and that America’s Jazz is what actually ended segregation.

    As every historian knows, history is written by the historians, such that Thomas Edison did not invent the first light bulb, nor did Alexander Graham Bell invent the first telephone, and just maybe the Wright Brothers did not invent the first airplane — they all were just the first to make money at it.

    Now I don’t jump into wars like this one — I publish books on America’s history from unpublished first person accounts. I just let the eye witness tell the story.

    Douglas Westfall, publisher

    SpecialBooks.com

    • gg

      First white slaves?

  • Linda Ellis

    It was an awesome day at The Discovery Museum, where not only John Brown and John Ratzenberger spoke, but we also saw all of the great new exhibits, the Whitehead plane replica that Mr. Kosch built and flew, and several different Planetarium shows.

    There was also a hot air balloon that had everyone lining up for rides; apparently Re/Max will have the balloon back again at Discovery Museum for their Flight Week in November.

    I thought it was just a young person’s museum, but I’m happy to report I was mistaken. While there were many things for children to do and explore, I was fascinated by the Connecticut Inventions and Innovations exhibit and the NASA space photos of the Sun.

    Kudos to Discovery Museum for the Whitehead First in Flight Exhibit and all of the wonderful things they do!

  • Robert

    The main issue is the replica was not exact to what Whitehead built for his Airplane no.21. Changes were made such as the engine anf using 3 points of contact to reinforce the ribs in the wings instead of 3 as Whitehead used. Makes the replica a replica and not the real deal and is not proof of his flight. Newspapaer articles are not a reliable source of info either during that time especially over people flying. There are articles from Denver of a mining company using a flying machine to move miners to and from mountains. It wAs false as are the vast majority of the 100’s of others claiming first in flight. There is just not a lot of solid evidence that Whitehead was indeed the first in flight. It doesnt take away hs contributions to aviation its just not an airtight case.

  • http://www.gustave-whitehead.info/GWsite/index.html Carroll F. Gray

    To read a point-by-point rebuttal and fact-check of John Brown’s Aug. 17 presentation, visit my Gustave Whitehead site – you’ll also find numerous articles setting the record straight about this controversy and about John Brown’s many errors and misleading statements.

    www.flyingmachines.org/gwinfo/jbrown%20august%2017,%202013.html

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