By Laura A. Bischoff
For more than 30 years now, the state of Connecticut has been peddling a story that Gustave Whitehead was the first man to fly a heavier-than-air machine and that he did so two years before Dayton’s Wright Brothers took flight on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1903.
The Whitehead claim resurfaced two years ago. Now, some Ohio lawmakers have had enough.
State Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, and 16 co-sponsors are backing a resolution to repudiate the Whitehead claim.
Wilbur and Orville Wright’s great grandniece, Amanda Wright Lane, testified before the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday in favor of Perales’ resolution.
“Uncle Orv and Uncle Will were the first to fly a powered heavier-than-air flying machine, they were the first to build a flying machine of — as they put it — practical utility, they were the first to sell an aeroplane to the U.S. government and other foreign entities, they were the first to build a factory that launched the aviation industry, an industry that made this nation a global power of the 20th and now 21st centuries,” Lane told lawmakers.
National Aviation Heritage Alliance communications director and Wright Brothers author Timothy Gaffney urged lawmakers to protect Ohio’s aviation brand, which has been usurped by North Carolina already.
In 2013, Connecticut lawmakers passed a resolution honoring Whitehead as the first, declaring that he flew Aug. 14, 1901. The Whitehead story was revived when Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft reported that evidence existed that Whitehead should be given credit. Dozens of aviation historians signed a letter debunking that claim and standing by the Wright Brothers.
“Connecticut isn’t simply trying to use our brand; it’s trying to destroy it,” Gaffney said. In the mid-1980s, North Carolina leaders debunked Connecticut’s claims while Ohio did not, he said. “When the claim resurfaced in March of 2013, Fox News made it a national story with a report that cast the controversy as a tussle between Connecticut and North Carolina. Fox didn’t even mention Ohio. The flurry of news reports that followed generally left Ohio on the sidelines.”