Who flew first? Order the new book “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight” to find out!
The preponderance of the evidence makes it clear that Gustave Whitehead made a significant number of successful powered flights in Connecticut that predated the Wrights by at least two years. The evidence includes an eye-witness journalist account, journalists who were eye-witnesses to photos of Whitehead in powered flight, and close to a score of affidavits and statements from eye-witnesses to the powered flights. This evidence was all part of the record, up through 1974, obtained by researchers Stella Randolph and Major William J. O’Dwyer (USAF, ret.), summarized in their book “History by Contract” (1978). Further research by Major William J. O’Dwyer (USAF, ret.) revealed more facts about Whitehead, up through 2008, some of which was written up in articles such as “The Who Flew First Debate” and which resides in O’Dwyer’s research, housed at the Gustav Weisskopf Museum in Leutershausen, Germany and the Fairfield Museum, Fairfield, CT. Recently, John Brown, an Australian noted as an expert on roadable aircraft, became became aware of Whitehead, studied the research of O’Dwyer and Randolph (the only existing body of research to date) and summarized its contents for the media and “Jane’s All the World Aircraft”. Brown also located a number of additional articles disseminated worldwide through the Associated Press on Whitehead, which added to the 50 key articles located by O’Dwyer. This body of evidence is compelling, which is leading to an increased number of authorities recognizing Whitehead as “first in flight” in a new generation. Brown thought he’d found a “missing photo” of Whitehead in flight, which was widely carried in the media for months, but it does not appear to be so at this writing. O’Dwyer had studied the wall of photos twenty years ago, that Brown studied in 2012, and could not determine which photo the Scientific American referred to when it reported in 1906 that a blurred photo of Whitehead in flight was seen on the wall of an Aero Club exhibition. Despite the lack of a photo, there is solid evidence, deriving from the work of O’Dwyer and Randolph, that Gustave Whitehead should hold the title, worldwide, of “first in flight” and should receive additional recognition for a plethora of inventions that have been incorporated into aircraft up through the present date.
Smithsonian Blocks Recognition for a Century
The Smithsonian Institution has done everything possible for the past hundred twelve years to avoid giving Whitehead recognition – first, so it could claim that its Secretary Langley should receive credit, and then, dropping that stance, it gave improper credit to Orville Wright in a legal maneuver, in order to gain the Wright Flyer as an exhibit for $1, in 1948. As admitting that Whitehead flew first is impossible for its staff, or they will lose the Wright Flyer, their premiere exhibit, which will return to Orville’s heirs, per the contract, Smithsonian has continued to ignore Whitehead’s accomplishments. Further, if Whitehead was known to fly first, this would undermine the broad terms of the “pioneer invention” patents obtained by the Wrights based on being first-in-flight, though no longer in force.
State of CT Recognition of Whitehead is Appropriate
Since the denial of Whitehead’s accomplishments by Smithsonian has existed for 112 years, the CT State Legislature and Governor has very appropriately, on a number of occasions over the past 60 years, recognized Whitehead’s early flights and his importance as an early aviation pioneer. A photo is not needed with all the evidence amassed by O’Dwyer and Randolph.
Unreasonably, Smithsonian demands a photo of Whitehead in flight. If this were necessary, the famed photo of the Wright Flyer raised 18″ in the air would not qualify, because it barely got off the ground in the photo, traveled only a hundred feet afterwards, out of control, and smashed into the sand. Smithsonian demands documentation, even though the documentation that exists for the Wrights does not include eye-witness affidavits, nor any concrete information except for diary entries and other documents written by the Wrights themselves.
No Missing Photo Found
With regards to the missing photos of Whitehead in flight that were known to exist, these appear to have been lost or destroyed over the past century. However, the William Hammer collection of photos, displayed at the First Annual Aero Club Exhibition of Aeronautical Apparatus of January 1906, included a photo of Whitehead’s plane in flight, according to the Scientific American: “A single blurred photograph of a large birdlike machine propelled by compressed air, and which was constructed by Whitehead in 1901, was the only other photograph besides that of Langley’s machines [note: Langley models] of a motor-driven aeroplane in successful flight” (Scientific American, Jan. 27, 1906). The wall with the Whitehead photos was labeled “Collection of Pictures Presented by William J. Hammer”.
Despite worldwide media coverage related to the purported “finding” of the missing photo of Whitehead in flight in 2013 by John Brown, Australian roadable aircraft expert living in Germany several hours away from the Weisskopf museum, it has not been definitively located. This website author, Susan O’Dwyer Brinchman, studied Whitehead for thirty years as a co-researcher with her father, Major O’Dwyer, and is familiar with the Whitehead flying machines. It is her opinion that the claimed finding of a photo by Mr. John Brown references one which appears to match a Montgomery aircraft, and does not resemble Whitehead’s plane, despite claims to the contrary.
Likely Location of Photo: Smithsonian
For decades, the original photo of Whitehead in flight displayed in that exhibit has been sought after, to no avail. It is more than likely that the photograph of Whitehead’s plane in flight was part of the William J. Hammer collection of aviation photographs locked away at the National Air and Space Museum, for three decades, following its donation to Smithsonian in 1962 by IBM.
The Smithsonian Institution has grossly abdicated its responsibilities by ignoring the Whitehead evidence, engaging instead in a century of attacking and ridiculing Whitehead, then his researchers, and the nearly 20 eye-witnesses to his flights, and likely hiding the very photo evidence they demand as proof.
We demand an independent audit and search of Smithsonian to determine the location of that photograph and its culpability in misleading the American public by unprofessionally offering historical recognition ‘for sale’ on its premises, to the exclusion of those who truly deserve it, defending this as appropriate.
Whitehead Recognition Deserved
There is ample evidence that Whitehead was first in powered flight, ahead of the Wrights. There is ample evidence that Whitehead contributed to the body of knowledge that led to further development of the art by subsequent inventors such as the Wrights. Whitehead and his descendents deserve his recognition.
The American public deserves historical accuracy, integrity and professionalism in its historical institutions. The state of CT deserves to honor its aviation pioneer without attacks and ridicule. Whitehead clearly predated the Wrights, it is time to recognize that fact.
“An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained. “ (Ghandi)
Susan O’Dwyer Brinchman
Whitehead researcher, 30 years; educator 32 years; M. Ed
La Mesa, CA
To contact the author, email gwfirstinflight (at) gmail.com