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Wright Brothers Bumped by Gustave Whitehead as First To Fly in Connecticut

Image: Wright Brothers Bumped by Gustave Whitehead as First To Fly in Connecticut

By Michael Mullins   |   Friday, 28 Jun 2013 06:29 AM

The Wright Brothers have been legislatively discredited as the first American aviators by the state of Connecticut.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced on Wednesday his signing into law a bill that names German immigrant and Connecticut resident Gustave Whitehead as the first American to successfully fly an aircraft.

The move continues a century long debate as to who was the nation’s actual first-in-flight aviator.

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Two years before the Wright brothers launched their historic flight on Dec. 17, 1903, over Kitty Hawk, N.C., an August 1901 article in the Bridgeport Herald newspaper, which was written as an eye witness report, claims Whitehead successfully piloted a half mile controlled powered flight over Fairfield, Conn.

Earlier this month Connecticut lawmakers were presented with recently discovered photos as well as eyewitness reports that convinced of Whitehead's monumental achievement, the New York Daily News reported.

The man responsible for finding the long-lost photos of Whitehead during what is commonly described as his first flight is aviation historian John Brown.

"After peer review earlier this year confirmed the finding that Gustave Whitehead was the first person to fly a powered airplane (long before the Wright brothers), society at large has now begun commemorating this achievement," Brown told the Daily News.

As to why state legislators were leading the charge in support of Whitehead’s claim, and in the process discrediting the Wright brothers, Brown added: "Since Whitehead was a Connecticut resident, it was only appropriate that the Connecticut Assembly and Governor led the way."

The photos Brown found of Whitehead had mysteriously vanished shortly after Whitehead's first flight.

In an interview with the Daily News on Thursday, John Harris, president of North Carolina's First Flight Foundation, disputed the claims and challenged the governor’s move.

"We’re certainly disappointed that Connecticut is trying to rewrite history," Harris said. "This has been researched over and over many times and it’s been concluded each time that there’s nothing factual to indicate that Whitehead flew. Ever flew. "

Admitting to have never seen Brown’s evidence himself, Harris added that numerous historians, including the Smithsonian Institution, have dismissed Whitehead’s success as fabricated, the Daily News reported.

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Reacting to Harris’ claims, Brown told the Daily News in an email that "for 40 years (1903-1942), the Smithsonian said, ‘It was not the Wrights. There's no proof they were first.’ Then, after a backroom deal, for 70 years (1942-2013), the Smithsonian then said, ’The Wrights were first. There's convincing proof.’"

Brown added, "The Smithsonian has never stated what new evidence this was based on or why it wasn't necessary to first examine the cases of other pioneers."

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