A state representative will rally Ohio lawmakers to declare the Wright brothers the first to fly an airplane after the state of Connecticut contended Gustave Whitehead beat the Dayton brothers in flight by two years.
Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, made the announcement Thursday standing in front of a “look-a-like” Wright B Flyer in a hangar at the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport.
Perales and North Carolina state Sen. Bill Cook, who joined the press conference via a teleconference from Kill Devil Hills, N.C., refuted claims Whitehead was the first to fly and made clear they took offense Connecticut passed a law in June that credited Whitehead with the first flight on Aug. 14, 1901.
Orville and Wilbur Wright took flight on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, N.C., on Dec. 17, 1903.
“It’s wrong for one state to distort history. I believe it’s just as wrong for other states to accept it in silence,” Perales said. “Wilbur and Orville were Ohioans, and Ohio needs to stand by them and speak up for them.”
The two discredited a blurry image in a photograph that purportedly shows the aircraft Whitehead flew and more than century-old news accounts of a 1901 Whitehead flight reported in a Bridgeport, Conn., newspaper that was picked up and repeated as fact.
“This thing is more like a fairy tale told to a child,” Cook said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Thirty-four aviation historians signed a statement refuting the Whitehead claim, officials said. The statement said Whitehead’s purported flight was based on “a single flawed news article combined with questionable witness testimony gathered more than thirty years after the fact” and a photographic image that was “totally discredited” and “proven to not be of Whitehead’s machine.”
Connecticut state Rep. Larry Miller, who believes the historical record shows Whitehead made aviation history in the lawmaker’s home district, introduced the resolution in his state that legislators made law this summer.
“We’re not distorting history,” he said Thursday in a telephone interview. “We want history to be accurate. … We’re not just blowing our horn. We’ve got documentation on this.”
Miller said dozens of people signed witness affidavits in the two years Whitehead allegedly flew prior to the Wright brothers’ flight, and a replica of his No. 21 plane has been flown by an enthusiast group.
“We’re not trying to do anything to discourage or make the Wright brothers look bad, but they were savvy businessmen, understand that,” Miller said.
He also dismissed historians’ contention the Wright brothers made history first.
“We must have 20 or 30 cabinets of historical data in Connecticut,” he said. “These guys are welcome to come to Connecticut and research it.”
While Ohio and North Carolina have often been rivals over who could claim the Wright brothers, this time the two states stood united, Perales and Cook said.
“For us to come together on anything much less aviation, much less the Wright Brothers, I think is astounding, it’s humorous, but it’s powerful,” Perales said.
Amanda Wright Lane, the grandniece of the Wright brothers, said her uncles’ aviation accomplishments are well documented.
“They were so well-documented, so well-recorded for history, I think there’s no doubt their research was the basis for the science of aeronautics,” she said.
The decades-old controversy and rivalry between the Wright brothers and Whitehead, a German immigrant, was revived this year when Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, considered the bible of aviation, declared the evidence showed Whitehead should be credited for the first flight. An attempt to reach Jane’s editor Paul Jackson was unsuccessful Thursday. Australian researcher John Brown has been credited with reviving interest in the contention Whitehead flew first.
In a telephone interview Thursday from Munich, Germany, Brown said his findings were based on both circumstantial and direct evidence that showed “well beyond a shadow of a doubt” Whitehead flew first.
“I’m an Australian so I don’t care whether it’s an American or a German who was the first to fly,” he said.
Brown said he relied on eyewitness statements, Whitehead’s expertise in building and selling engines and in aviation, and his use of the same airplane wing design glider pioneer Otto Lilienthal successfully flew, among other points.
Tom D. Crouch, a Dayton native and senior aeronautics curator at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., said there’s no credible evidence to support the claim Whitehead flew an airplane before the Wrights. The claims have been repeated and discredited over the decades, he said.
“There are no pictures of any Whitehead powered machine in the air,” he said. “Whitehead supporters have been trying to turn up a photograph of him in flight for 70 years and they haven’t done it yet.
“Every single person who funded Whitehead efforts at the time at one point or another wound up saying they didn’t ever think that Whitehead ever got off the ground,” Crouch said. “In fact, he was entirely dismissed by his contemporaries at the time.”
Perales said his resolution could come up for a vote this fall. North Carolina previously passed a resolution giving credit to the Wright brothers and dismissing the Whitehead claims in 1985. Cook said he did not expect another vote.