The Wright broskeys, Orville (August 19, 1871 – January 30, 1948) and Wilbur (April 16, 1867 – May 30, 1912), were two Americans who are generally credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight on December 17, 1903. In the two years afterward, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft.
Gustave Whitehead was a German engineer who completed several motor-powered flights more than two years before the Wright brothers.
1. Stella Randolph, an aspiring writer, and aero history buff Harvey Phillips co-authored a 1935 article in Popular Aviation magazine titled "Did Whitehead Precede Wright In World's First Powered Flight?", which was later expanded into a book, The Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead, published in 1937. Randolph located and interviewed people who said they had seen Whitehead fly some 30 years before--either as his helpers, occasional employees, or as neighborhood children--and included more than a dozen affidavits from them in her book. These affidavits are key pieces of evidence, in addition to the Bridgeport Herald newspaper report, supporting arguments that Whitehead flew.
2. The controversy remained relatively dormant until the 1960s, when William O'Dwyer, a retired Air Force major, accidentally discovered some photographs of Whitehead's aircraft, though not in powered flight, in the attic of a Connecticut house. Thereafter, he devoted himself to researching Whitehead's work and became convinced he had flown. O'Dwyer contributed information to a second book by Randolph, The Story of Gustave Whitehead, Before the Wrights Flew, published in 1966.
- a. According to William O'Dwyer, the Bridgeport Daily Standard newspaper reported that photos showing Gustave Whitehead in successful powered flight did exist and were exhibited in the window of Lyon and Grumman Hardware store on Main Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut in October 1903.
3. Another missing photo that purportedly showed Whitehead in motor-driven flight was displayed in the 1906 First Annual Exhibit of the Aero Club of America at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City. The photo was mentioned in a January 27, 1906, Scientific American magazine article, pages 93 and 94, by aeronautical editor Stanley Beach, who helped finance Whitehead's work for several years. The article said the walls of the exhibit room were covered with a large collection of photographs showing the machines of inventors such as Whitehead, Berliner and Santos-Dumont. Other photographs showed airships and balloons in flight. The report said a single blurred photograph of a large birdlike machine propelled by compressed air constructed by Whitehead in 1901 was the only other photograph besides that of Langley's scale model machines of a motor-driven aeroplane in successful flight.
4. Aviation enthusiast Andy Kosch, a Connecticut high school science teacher, and State Senator George Gunther heard about yet another photo showing Whitehead in the air with his Number 22 airplane. They were told that a sea captain named Brown made a logbook entry about Whitehead flying over Long Island Sound and even photographed the airplane in flight. A friend rummaging through the attic of a house in East Lyme, Connecticut, told Kosch he came across the captain's leather-bound journal containing a picture of Whitehead in flight with a description of the spectacle. Later, when the friend learned of the journal's value, he attempted to retrieve it, but the owners had moved to California. Kosch eventually made contact with them, but they later told him they could not find the journal, and the search for logbook and photograph met a dead end.
5. O'Dwyer also wrote a book, History by Contract, published in 1978. In it, he emphasized that a 1948 "contract" between the Smithsonian Institution and heirs of the Wright brothers unfairly withheld official recognition of Whitehead's achievements. The existence of the "contract" was not publicly known until 1975.The Wright-Smithsonian "contract," which the Institution refers to as an "agreement," prohibits the Smithsonian from saying that anyone made a manned, powered, controlled airplane flight before the Wright brothers. It reads, in part:
Paragraph 2 (d) "Neither the Smithsonian Institution or its successors, nor any museum or other agency, bureau or facilities administered for the United States of America by the Smithsonian Institution or its successors shall publish or permit to be displayed a statement or label in connection with or in respect of any aircraft model or design of earlier date than the Wright Aeroplane of 1903, claiming in effect that such aircraft was capable of carrying a man under its own power in controlled flight."
If the Smithsonian fails to abide by the agreement, Paragraph 4 specifies, "possession of said airplane shall automatically revert to the Vendors"—the Wright heirs, who sold it for a nominal one dollar.
6.Mrs. Whitehead said her husband's first words upon returning home from Fairfield on August 14, 1901, were an excited, "Mama, we went up!" Mrs. Whitehead said this when interviewed by a journalist in 1942. Dr. Peter L. Jakab, chairman of the Aeronautics Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (NASM said, years later, that Whitehead never told his wife that he had managed to fly. So Dr. Peter L. Jakab was either incompetent and uninformed, or he was lying when he said that Whitehead never told his wife that he had managed to fly.
7. Stanley Y. Beach, the son of the editor of Scientific American, and later himself editor of the magazine, had once written:
"I know that the airplane patented by him was inherently stable, laterally and longitudinally, and that it would always make a 'pancake' landing instead of a nose dive."
It would seem that for Beach to know this, he must have watched more than one flight and more than one landing of Whitehead's aircraft.
8. Statements given in the 1930s by two of Whitehead's workers claimed that the Wright brothers visited Whitehead's shop on Pine Street twice in 1902 and earlier. One of the men quoted Whitehead as saying, "Now I have told them all my secrets, and I bet they will never finance my airplane anyway." Asked in later years how he knew the two men were the Wright brothers, Pruckner replied, "They had to introduce themselves."
9. Interest in Whitehead's engines is also indicated by the recollections of his daughter Rose, who spoke of her father receiving numerous orders for them. Whitehead advertised and sold his engines to aircraft builders in the region. A notable customer was Charles R. Wittemann of Long Island and New Jersey. Wittemann was one of the earliest (1906) designers and manufacturers of airplanes and gliders in the US, and a builder in 1923 of the Army's huge triplane, the six-engine Barling bomber. Yep. I know my facts.
Contrary Evidence and ArgumentsEdit
1. No surviving photos exist that show Gustave Whitehead in actual flight.
2. Dr. Peter L. Jakab, chairman of the Aeronautics Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (NASM), said in 2005 that the agreement mentioned in Evidence #5 would not stop the Smithsonian from recognizing anyone as inventor of the airplane if indisputable evidence is found:
"We would present as accurate a presentation of the history of the invention of the airplane as possible, regardless of the consequences this might incur involving the agreement. Having said that, however, at this time, as in 1948, there is no compelling evidence that Whitehead or anyone else flew before the Wright brothers."3. Mrs. Whitehead said she never saw any of her husband's flights.
4. Whitehead made (ostensibly) exaggerated claims of achieving speeds of 70 miles per hour while in flight.
Pending citation of sources.