CAHA and Gustave Whitehead

Who flew first? Order the new book “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight” to find out!

What role did CAHA (Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association) really play in the recognition of Gustave Whitehead?

1. Intro: 1950’s – 1970’s

2. 1981: YouTube: Historian Agrees Whitehead Flew 1901-1902

3. 1981: YouTube: Crouch & Lippincott Discussion of Whitehead

4. 2011: CAHA’s Research Archivist, Carlton Stidsen: Anti-Whitehead and Poorly Informed


1. Intro: 1950’s – 1970’s

CAHA (Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association), a CT 501c3 nonprofit aviation organization established in the late 1950’s, saw to it that Gustave Whitehead was recognized for his contributions to Connecticut aviation. The Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association (CAHA) was responsible for initiating this recognition of Gustave Whitehead as “Father of CT Aviation”, declared by Governor John Dempsey, on August 8, 1964 . Mr. Harvey Lippincott, Founder and then-President of CAHA, who helped interview and establish credibility for witnesses to Whitehead’s flights for the next decade, said, ” His [Whitehead’s] contributions to aviation were tremendous…This recognition … is long overdue.” (Bridgeport Post, Aug. 9, 1964). CAHA also sponsored a research committee to locate and interview witnesses, which occurred for ten years. The last living witness to be located and interviewed with CAHA’s participation was Elizabeth Koteles, in 1974.

Father of CT Aviation Aug. 1964

Quote from Harvey Lippincott, CAHA Founder and Director  (From article: “Governor Names Gustave Whitehead Father of Aviation in Connecticut”, Bridgeport Sunday Post, Aug. 9, 1964, p. 15)


2. 1981: YouTube: Historian Agrees Whitehead Flew 1901-1902

During a videotaped interview with CAHA President Emeritus Harvey Lippincott at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, NY, he answered  questions about Gustave Whitehead and CAHA’s research, posed by Major William J. O’Dwyer, (ret), Head of the CAHA Whitehead Research Committee (Interview took place Aug./Sept. 1981). Filming done by H. Spannenberger. Complete film resides at Gustav Weisskopf Museum, Leutershausen, Germany. Site author has a copy of this segment, which has been uploaded to YouTube at, view it and read transcript, below.

“Historian Agrees Gustave Whitehead Flew 1901-1902” on YouTube with Transcript as spoken and below:

>> ODWYER: Harv, being here at Old Rhinebeck, seeing you and seeing Bob Stepanek again today brings back good memories of when we did the Whitehead research together.

>> LIPPINCOTT: That’s right.

>> ODWYER:  And I was wondering if for the German listening audience, you could recall when we got into it and why we got into the research of Whitehead.

>> LIPPINCOTT: Well, when we started the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association in 1959, we were aware that Gustave Whitehead was one of the early Connecticut aviation pioneers. We’d read some snatches of information about him but knew very little about him. We recognized that he was one of the men who would require considerable research … into his research and activities to certainly at least record him. Some of our early members of the Association living in the Bridgeport area did some superficial research collecting some pictures, and newspaper accounts and so forth.

>> ODWYER: What date was that, Harvey?

>> LIPPINCOTT: That would date from about 1961-62. But it was not until you found a set of pictures which were labeled “Whitehead’s Effort” and you took them to the Bridgeport Post which had run some articles about the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association and asked what was this effort? Well this got us all together and all of our interest was increased about the Whitehead story. And you in particular took a deep interest and we encouraged you to take a deep interest because we were fifty miles up in Hartford, Connecticut and you were in the Bridgeport area where it all took place. Those who are living near an event have a better opportunity to research and put the time in. And you very generously did it and have done a splendid job of pulling the research together.

>> ODWYER: Because of our joint research though, this would include Stella Randolph’s work in the thirties, your work at CAHA before I got into it, and then our joint work, mutually, together … how do you see Whitehead fitting into the history of world … aviation history?

>> LIPPINCOTT: He is, in CT, the man who made the first airplane, the first airplane engines, and … we believe that he was a very early, earnest experimenter, attempting to solve the problem of flight. From the research that we… and particularly from what you did and from my observation of it, he appears that he was in flight in this very early period of 1901-1902, but not to the extent that some of the accounts give … I cannot accept the fact that he flew 7 miles, but I can accept the fact that this airplane of his may have flown 100 – 200 feet, 10-15 feet off the ground.  This is confirmed by the witnesses that we have interviewed and talked with, and this seems reasonable for the state of the art in aviation at that time. [Note by site author: even these “short flights” would predate the Wrights and beat the distance and altitude currently recognized by Smithsonian for the first flight.]

>> ODWYER: How reliable would you say the testimony of Mrs. Koteles was when she spoke with us at that time? [Site author note: 1974, see * below]

>> LIPPINCOTT:  I was quite impressed with what she said. Obviously not attuned to aeronautics, airplanes, or their capability. But I think she explained what she saw.

>> ODWYER: Sincere testimony?

>> LIPPINCOTT: Yes, sincere testimony. She explained exactly what she saw. [Note by site author: Mrs. Elizabeth Koteles said she saw Whitehead fly up to 250 feet* at a height of about five feet, in 1901. This surpasses Orville Wright’s record for 1903.]

>> ODWYER: Your personal opinion: Do you believe Whitehead flew in the time of 1901-1902?

>> LIPPINCOTT: Yes, I do.  There might have been some limitations to the flights. But he was in the air, in my opinion … for short flights.

>> ODWYER: Would you rate his engine work as noteworthy?

>> LIPPINCOTT: For the time, yes. Noteworthy.

>> ODWYER: With Whitehead having been forgotten or ignored or whatever, through the years, I think the German audience would appreciate knowing if, in your opinion, as a historian – a well-recognized historian – that Whitehead deserves a place of honor among the list of early pioneers in world history?

>> LIPPINCOTT: I believe he deserves a place of honor, yes.

>> ODWYER: OK. Thank you.

>> SPANNENBERGER: One question more.  Why do you think no more people …  only a small group of interested people recognize the fact he (Whitehead) has flown?

>> LIPPINCOTT: This is, uh, I think because, uh, the accomplishments of the Wright brothers were thoroughly documented by themselves at the time, to prove what they did. And through the years, this has become the real basis of fact and interest and acknowledgement. Whitehead, unfortunately, apparently did not keep the records that some of the other pioneers did, I mean the written records, and some of the photographic records that are sort of required by historians today, to really establish the veracity of what was done.  It is looked at today, more as, shall we say, circumstantial evidence of what he did.

>> ODWYER: Harvey, would you yield to this point, though. I, myself, don’t feel that we can any further accuse Whitehead of not having kept records, because we have found many records that he did keep that became dispersed through time. It was only because he did have these records and we inherited them by finding them.. Isn’t it possible that he did keep other records which may have become lost as well?

>> LIPPINCOTT:  It is possible they may have been lost, that he may have kept them, but they don’t exist today

>> ODWYER: But others, if they had been involved earlier than when we found them in the 1960’s…I feel very well convinced that they could have found a  lot more than we did.

>> LIPPINCOTT: Well it’s true that people did not dig into Whitehead at an early date, which if they had, we might have had a better picture of what he did. This is not necessarily unique to Whitehead. This happened to other pioneers, where the records just don’t exist today, it is very difficult to accept all their claims of what they did or did not do.

>> ODWYER: That’s the whole point to museums, today. At least our type of museum [CAHA] to try to collect that memorabilia.

>> LIPPINCOTT: Yup, yup.

>> ODWYER: Well it was nice to see you here today.

[Site author’s note: The Smithsonian-Wright Contract, compelling acceptance only of the Wrights as first in flight, known by the date of this interview to exist, was not addressed. The conversation did not mention, in its latter portion, the research work of Stella Randolph, who single-handedly did preserve some of what was available in the 1930’s, and was turned over to CAHA and O’Dwyer for their use.]


*When asked about Mrs. Koteles’ statement, this is what Mr. Lippincott referred to:

On February 2, 1974, Harvey Lippencott, President Emeritus of the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association (CAHA); Mr. Robert Thompson, CAHA member and teacher, Trumbull High School; Mr. and Mr.s Louis A. Beresz (son-in-law and daughter of Mrs. Koteles); Mr. Steve Koteles, a son; and Major William J. O’Dwyer, US AF (Reserve), who was also a CAHA member, were all present to interview Elizabeth Koteles, a witness to a Whitehead flight (along with her husband and a larger group of onlookers), that she recalled was in 1901. Missing were Smithsonian curators and staff, who had been invited (see ** below). She recalled the sound of the airplane motor, as well. The flight was for the No. 21 airplane, which she identified from photos. Mrs. Koteles was approximately 22 years of age at the time of the flight. She was an immediate next door neighbor to Gustave Whitehead. She was not promoting him, did not seem to think this flight was of any importance, as she expected it to be higher and was disappointed. She did not understand that at the time, that the powered flight she described was unprecedented at that point, in history.

From Mrs. Koteles’ affidavit, interpreted to her in both English and Hungarian by her daughter, Mrs. Ida Koteles Berecz, signed on Aug. 1, 1974:

“The area where the aircraft was tested was on the level portion, mid-hill…we stood at the side of the road and looked over the stone wall onto that field. The craft was just beyond the wall. The craft lifted off the ground during one experiment to an elevation of approximately 4 to 5 feet, and I doubt it was over 6 feet. It flew for a distance of approximately 150 to 250 feet before landing. There was no damage to either the aircraft or Mr. Whitehead. …”Was the ground level?” I can recall it was level and that the ground was smooth, like a park field, and covered with grass.” (from History by Contract, O’Dwyer and Randolph, page 63-64)

**Paul Garber, of the Smithsonian Institute, and additional Smithsonian staff had been invited to attend this interview. The invitation was at first declined, indicating the Smithsonian staff did not have the funds nor the time to do so. Smithsonian staff then did not respond when offered a travel funds advance by CAHA (History by Contract, p. 66-70). The truth was that Smithsonian staff did not wish to be present to hear yet another witness to a flight that predated that of the Wright brothers, and then be conflicted about the Contract that Smithsonian then secretly held with the Wright heirs, requiring them to acknowledge only the Wrights as first in flight. It would be two years later, in 1976, when the Contract was unearthed by Major William O’Dwyer with the assistance of CT Senator Weicker, following a tip from CAHA President Emeritus, Harvey Lippincott. (History by Contract, p. 219-220).


3. 1981: YouTube: Crouch & Lippincott Discussion of Whitehead


Gustave Whitehead’s flight capabilities discussed by Harvey Lippincott, CAHA President Emeritus, Interviewer and Observer for several Whitehead flight witnesses in 1960’s and 1970’s; and Tom Crouch, Curator, Smithsonian – native of Dayton, OH, and Wright biographer. Circa 1981, filmed by Spannenberger for German TV, raw footage donated to Gustav Weisskopf Museum, Leutershausen, Germany.

Harvey Lippincott states he believes Whitehead had control. The issue of what flight is, is brought up by Dr. Crouch, however by his own definition the Wrights also only made hops. Thirdly, the issue of measurement of distance is brought up by both men … however the Wrights didn’t measure either, only the last of the four flights on Dec. 17, 1903 was measured, the others estimated, by Orville’s own statements. So that should disqualify the currently credited flight by Orville, except for the requirement by the insidious Wright-Smithsonian Contract which forbids any deviation from crediting Orville as first in flight.


>> LIPPINCOTT: I feel very confident that he did make short flights from the various interviews I have done.

>> CROUCH: The only area in which Mr. Lippincott and I really have even minor disagreements is the fact that I am not at all sure in my own mind that there is evidence for the short hops. I think he and I agree that the hops, even if they did occur, as Harvey believes they did, can’t be qualified as flight in the sense that they were either sustained or honestly controlled in the air. And I think that both of those are important criteria when you are talking about flight.

>>LIPPINCOTT: I think that the Whitehead machine of the 1901-1902 period had control up to a point. We’re not sure exactly how much lateral control he had – he may not have had lateral control actually built into the machine, but he had sufficient dihedral that he might have been actually … in still air, he might have been able to fly laterally without disaster. In rough air he might have lost control. We know he had elevator control. We know that the propellers, by speeding one up and slowing one down would turn you,  not quickly but would turn you. But I have not found anybody who really gave any evidence that he made any major turns in his flights.

>>CROUCH: Of course, if we say that the flights, if they did exist, the hops, were limited to 50 to 200 feet, that is scarcely room to …

>>LIPPINCOTT: That’s not room to do too much.

>>CROUCH: Yeah. It ahh… We do have, have, material, material here…such as, such as exists. And again, to say I think that there was no interest in Whitehead is unfair.

>>SPANNENBERGER: Mr. Lippincott, do you believe that he should have a place in the gallery of early pioneers at Smithsonian?

>>LIPPINCOTT: I believe he should have mention. He certainly was a very dedicated, earnest pioneering experimenter in attempting to solve the problem of flight. The ultimate evaluation of how far he did accomplish may never be proved because we do not have the original documents of Whitehead. Whether Whitehead made the documents or he did not, they apparently don’t exist today. This is the unfortunate part. There is no picture of his airplane in flight. There is no written word of measurements or anything to prove how much he flew. I am not convinced that he really had much in the way of documents because in my interview with Anton Pruckner, we specifically asked him how far the aircraft flew. He said, well, we didn’t know. We didn’t measure it. We just guessed. So this is another reason why I just can’t quite accept figures of a mile or a mile and a half if it had not been measured. And his own associate says we did not measure.


4. 2011: CAHA’s Research Archivist, Carlton Stidsen: Anti-Whitehead and Poorly Informed

CAHA / New England Air Museum‘s current research librarian, Carlton A. Stidsen, pro-Smithsonian and pro-Wright as “first in flight” was interviewed in 2011 on the Colin Mcenroe Show, at WNPR.

Carl Stidsen, who doesn't know much about Whitehead.

Carl Stidsen, CAHA / NEAM research librarian, who doesn’t know much about Whitehead.

Unfortunately, Mr. Carl Stidsen appears to have been a poor student of Whitehead, though he says he’s studied him since 1980, as many of his remarks are false and misleading, easily proven so. Mr. Stidsen advises NEAM on its Whitehead stance, which is alarming. Perhaps Mr. Stidsen has been a student of Smithsonian propaganda about Whitehead and does not seem to be aware of NEAM’s parent organization’s [CAHA’s] founder, Harvey Lippincott, being so supportive of Whitehead’s flights. Some of the Carlton Stidsen bloopers [“mistakes”] include:

a. “Whitehead left at age 13 to go to sea” (FALSE! Whitehead went to sea at age 16 or 17). From age 13-15 he was at a German trade school learning to build engines, also learning engineering. Saying he left at 13 minimizes Whitehead’s crucial educational experiences in Germany.)

b. “Whitehead flew 7 miles in the middle of the night.” (FALSE! Whitehead never claimed that flight was in the night, it was in the daytime hours, according to his own account)

c. “Even his own contemporaries didn’t believe him…No one took him seriously.” (FALSE! Whitehead was written up in over 125 news articles, visited by a Smithsonian representative sent to spy on him and make measurements to bring back to Secretary Langley; visited by the Wright brothers on several occasions according to witnesses, funded by the Scientific American Aviation Editor and his father, the owner, visited often by prominent members of the esteemed Brooklawn Country Club. Orville Wright feared Whitehead’s record of achievements, as he’d flown first and they knew it interfered with their own claims. Thus, the Smithsonian Contract forbade recognition of aviators who predated the Wrights, such as Whitehead.)

d. “Wrights kept photo records of their flights.” (FALSE! Actually the photo record doesn’t show the Wrights in flight.)

e. “Scientific American funded Whitehead.” (FALSE! Actually it was the owner who privately funded Whitehead after his flights were made, not the magazine.)

f. “Most likely… that he built gliders.” (FALSE AND MISLEADING!  Actually, there are many surviving photos of his gliding experiments, so it is more than likely that Whitehead built gliders. However, it is also well-documented with photos that he built planes, and extensive witness statements show that he was in powered flight as early as 1900.)

g. “Gustave Whitehead was a typical tinkerer, blacksmith, businessman of period…” (FALSE! Actually, Whitehead was anything but typical! He developed and flew the first airplanes.)

h. “Smithsonian is neutral on this whole thing due to their relations with the Wright brothers.” (FALSE! Actually Smithsonian is not neutral, they have a contract forcing them to recognize only the Wrights as first in flight.)

i. “[The Wright Flyer] still belongs to the Wright Foundation, does not belong to NASM. (FALSE! The Wright Flyer was acquired by the US Gov’t and Smithsonian for $1 and tax benefits, in 1948. It reverts to the Wright heirs if Smithsonian breaks the contract.)

j. “Paul Garber [former Smithsonian curator]  is a superb gentleman.” (FALSE! Actually, it is a matter of record, memorialized in the book, “History by Contract” [O’Dwyer and Randolph] on page 216, in a letter written by CAHA Founder and President Harvey Lippincott, that Paul Garber lied and denied Smithsonian had such a contract with the Wright heirs.)

The Garber lie:

“Paul Garber volunteered the statement that he had always tried to keep an open mind on the subject (of Whitehead and first flight) and, in fact, when the Wright estate submitted an agreement pertaining to the transfer of the 1903 Wright Flyer to the Smithsonian, Garber refused to accpet a clause in the agreement that stipulated that the Smithsonian would not acknowledge any claimants to flight prior to that of the Wrights. He further stated that upon objection the Wright estate withdrew the clause after which Smithsonian signed the agreement. I acknowledge that the above statements are true, to the best of my recollection.”  (Harvey Lippincott, July 6, 1976)


Currently, with President Lippincott having passed on, CAHA runs the New England Air Museum (NEAM) based near Hartford, CT, under new leadership that supports the Wright brothers as first in flight, ignoring the Whitehead witness statements which CAHA collected in the 1960’s and 70’s that show Whitehead was first in flight.

CAHA and other museums like it are often in the position of having to “get along” with Smithsonian, which has a legal contract with the Wright heirs, to recognize only the Wright brothers as first in flight.

In May, 2013, Mr. Stidsen wrote the site author, and said the following, “I do not believe it advisable or possible for the New England Air Museum to “recognize Gustave Whitehead as first in flight” … nor to be involved in efforts at statewide or nationwide recognition of Mr. Whitehead beyond its existing recognition, as indicated above. I have so advised Mr. Spezial [Speciale], in his capacity as Director of NEAM. ” (Author’s comment: Yikes, we advise that Mr. Speciale obtain a NEW advisor and research librarian!)

In view of CAHA’s founding president supporting Whitehead flights, its members interviewing witnesses and issuing statements that they supported the veracity of the witnesses, it would seem that CAHA’s, Director Michael P. Speciale’s, research archivist Mr. Carlton Stidsen’s, and NEAM’s current position against Whitehead flights is untenable and should be changed. Similar negative statements about Whitehead and Whitehead researchers have been made by an out-of-state [North Carolina] CAHA member recently, who obviously isn’t aware of the above.

CAHA founder and longtime director Harvey Lippincott ‘s statements, above, directly contradict the Smithsonian’s and current Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association (CAHA) / (New England Air Museum) NEAM’s position, as well as the purported comments of the North Carolina-based CAHA member. Mr. Stidsen of CAHA / NEAM is so far off-base that we invite him to read “History by Contract” by O’Dwyer and Randolph, with its 200 original documents and photos, and study the above videotape and transcript. Then, open up the CAHA archives to the public, completely. The public has a right to know, CAHA is publicly funded, and CAHA claims it is transparent. Let’s see that in action!

[*Site author’s note: actually some of Whitehead’s plans and documentation have been located, the Whitehead family had preserved it and likely had nowhere safe to send it, as earlier attempts to allow examination of artifacts led to damage and loss (ie. a stack of stereoscopic Whitehead photos were known to be “mishandled” and destroyed; possible theft – called a “loss” – of a set of Whitehead tongs while at Smithsonian) of some of the artifacts, when entrusted to museum staff and organizations in the USA, in the 1960’s and 1970’s. With the extremely negative attitude toward Whitehead by USA museum directors and staff that existed then and continues into the present date, the site author believes the Whitehead artifacts would not have remained safe here, and still would not be safe in the USA. Mr. John Brown, of Germany, owner of a Whitehead website, reportedly has three boxes of artifacts sent to him by the Whitehead family in July, 2013, which he says he will release to the Gustav Weisskopf Museum, in Whitehead’s hometown of Leutershausen, Germany. One of these artifacts is a set of plans for Whitehead’s helicopter, which he has posted to his website.] The Gustav Weisskopf Museum remains the one museum exclusively and reliably dedicated to preserving Whitehead artifacts and information, while not readily accessible to the public via Internet-based access, a problem that we hope will be rectified through the increased funding received from the state of Bavaria. One must physically go to the museum to view its archives and collections. A Gustave Whitehead Museum is needed in the United States, as well. The fact remains Whitehead did use plans, he did have records, and some are available. He did die young and in bad health. His family was left impoverished and unable to deal with attacks on his legacy by Wright proponents, throughout the past four generations.]