Ohio Lawmaker Offers Subtle Response to Connecticut’s Latest ‘First in Flying’ Claim

Gustave Whitehead Day was met with a simple reminder of Ohio’s 2015 resolution.

Ohio Wright Brothers
(L-R) Ohio State Rep. Rick Perales with Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright, the great-grandniece and great-grandnephew of the Wright Brothers, respectively, in 2015.Rick Perales

It was only a matter of time before Ohio and North Carolina lawmakers responded to Connecticut’s latest proclamation and celebration of Gustave Whitehead. However, the subtlety is surprising.

The German aviation pioneer was honored by two Connecticut towns last week, as local officials and aviation fans gathered to declare August 14 Gustave Whitehead Day, on the 116th anniversary of what some historians believe was the day he became the first in powered flight. Whitehead's great-great-granddaughter was on hand to share stories that have been passed down by her family, and Andy Kosch, who built and flew a replica of Whitehead's Condor No. 21, was also present.

In response, Ohio State Rep. Rick Perales gifted a framed copy of his 2015 resolution to the National Aviation Heritage Alliance, and it will be permanently displayed at Huffman Prairie Flying Field, where the Wright Brothers "mastered the principles of controlled, powered flight and developed the world's first practical airplane." The resolution rejects Connecticut's claim that Whitehead was the first to fly "a powered, heavier-than-air machine," reaffirming that honor for Orville and Wilbur Wright.

“The overwhelming majority of findings by historians and researchers say the Wright Brothers were first in flight, and to me, Connecticut’s claim was a challenge on our very heritage,” Perales said at the 2015 ceremony, which featured Amanda Wright Lane and Stephen Wright, the great-grandniece and great-grandnephew of the Wright Brothers, respectively. “The Wright Brothers, with arguably the most significant technological contribution of the 20th Century, laid the groundwork for the entire aerospace and aviation industry, and I believe that we should show the country and the world that Ohioans have the ingenuity and persistence to solve problems in a big way.”

This debate is far from over, however, as was evident at the Whitehead ceremony last week. As Kosch told a local media outlet, "We believe Whitehead was first, two years before the Wright Brothers, and we are going to continue fighting to get him credit. The Bible of Aviation in their 100th anniversary issue in 2013 recognizes Whitehead as the first to fly before the Wright Brothers."

Kosch was referring to a 2013 editorial written by the editor of Jane's All the World's Aircraft that supported the Whitehead first-in-flight claims, although the publisher of Jane's later disavowed the piece.