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German-born man took to skies -- two years before the Wright Brothers

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 12th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

History at times seems to have a faulty memory, ignoring others who were first out of the gate in order to please personal prejudices. Many are quick to point out that Christopher Columbus was not the first explorer to discover America. Now -- Connecticut legislators have passed a bill insisting that Connecticut aviator Gustave Whitehead flew two years before the Wright brothers at Kitty Hawk, N.C. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Born in Leutershausen, Bavaria as Gustave Weisskopf, Bridgeport resident Gustave Whitehead showed an early interest in flight, experimenting with kites and earning the nickname "the flyer."

Training as a mechanic, Gustave traveled to Hamburg, where in 1888 he was forced to join the crew of a sailing ship. He arrived in the U.S. in 1893 when he anglicized his name to Gustave Whitehead.

Whitehead designed an aircraft in the early 1900s that could be driven like a car, fitted with wings that could be unfolded. Whitehead saw a time when owners would be able to drive the car to a field or suitable runway and then unfold wings on the side of the vehicle that would then turn the car into a plane.

Whitehead then built his Condor aircraft, known as No.21, based on this flying car model. 

Reports in the Bridgeport Herald in August 1901 claim Whitehead drove the Condor to a field outside Connecticut, unfolded the wings and made two demonstration flights. During the second flight, Whitehead is said to have flown for a mile and a half and reached a height of 50 feet. 
Whitehead updated the model, called No. 22, and made another demonstration flight on 22 January 1902 in front of 17 witnesses. 

Therefore, Whitehead is credited by some for the first flight in August 1901. The Wright brothers lifted off from North Carolina in December 1903.

The bill honors what it calls the first powered flight by Whitehead in 1901, "rather than the Wright brothers." 

"We want to correct something that should have been corrected long ago," Rep. Larry Miller, R-Stratford, who spearheaded the legislation, says. "All we're trying to do is correct history. There's nothing in it for us." 

There are voices of dissension. Tom Crouch, senior curator for aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution, which displays Wilbur and Orville Wright's plane at the National Air and Space Museum, said Whitehead's backers are "absolutely wrong. 

"Whitehead's legend has spawned much speculation and hearsay," he said. "People who have looked at this over the years... almost unanimously reject the claim." 

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has not committed to signing the legislation, but will review it when it reaches his desk, a spokesman said.

Whitehead's wife Louise wasn't a big fan of his obsession with flying, who complained her husband was always busy with motors and flying machines when he was not working in coal yards or factories. "I hated to see him put so much time and money into that work," she was quoted as saying. She claimed to have never seen any of her husband's reported flights.
 

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