Connecticut Names Gustave Whitehead First in Flight

State bill officially recognizes disputed 1901 flight.

Gustave Whitehead

Gustave Whitehead

** Gustave Whitehead**

It's a debate that could ignite a feud between the North and South. This week Connecticut legislators passed a bill that includes a paragraph buried within its text stating that Gustave Whitehead and not the Wright Brothers should be recognized as the first to fly — at least north of the Tappan Zee Bridge.

North Carolina already claims Kitty Hawk as the rightful birthplace of aviation, and most historians recognize Orville and Wilbur’s famous feat as being the first manned powered, heavier-than-air flight.

The debate has resurfaced recently as new evidence appears to support an idea that Whitehead flew two years before the Wrights. The contention is based on a lithograph print that appeared in a newspaper story and an eyewitness account by a reporter who purportedly was present for the half-mile flight near Bridgeport on Aug. 14, 1901.

"We want to correct something that should have been corrected long ago," state Rep. Larry Miller (R-Stratford) told the Associated Press. "All we're trying to do is correct history. There's nothing in it for us."

Historian John Brown recently pieced together the forensics that lend credibility to the idea that the lithograph in question indeed shows Whitehead's No. 21 aircraft in flight. The theory was given extra credence when Jane's All the World's Aircraft agreed it was time to rewrite the history books and name Whitehead the first to fly.

Of course, many people, including the historians who run the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum where the Wright Flyer proudly hangs, disagree. North Carolinians strongly reject the Whitehead claims as well, and will continue to stake their claim with the state's "First in Flight" license plates.

The Connecticut legislation includes a paragraph requiring the governor to proclaim “Powered Flight Day” be revised to replace the Wright Brothers with Whitehead. The bill has passed the state legislature and awaits the governor’s signature.