A newly discovered photograph calling into question the Wright Brothers claim to the “first in flight” title continues to draw reaction from aviation experts. Some historians say German Immigrant Gustave Whitehead deserves the distinction. The photograph in question is actually a photograph within a photograph. Amateur historian John Brown found it in an attic in Germany.
Today Senior Curator of Aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution, Tom Crouch set aside time in Dayton to address the question at a press briefing. He says the contention that Whitehead actually flew in 1901, two years before the Wright Brother’s 1903 Flyer took flight has come up before, and it just doesn’t stand up.
Crouch says, “The only real witness to that flight named said it didn’t happen, didn’t happen. So I just don’t believe the 1901 flight happened. And there aren’t any witnesses to the 1902 flight.”
And Crouch says the claim opens up more questions than it answers. Most notably, why didn’t Whitehead document anymore flights, or even claim to fly after the Wright Brothers? He counters that “In later years [Whitehead] continued to build airplanes for other people. Strangely enough, they didn’t look like anything like what he claimed to have flown in 1901 and 1902. And even stranger, none of those planes he built for other people in later years ever left the ground. So you’re left with what? Did this guy forget the secret of flight? If he had flown that far, why didn’t he continue doing it?”
Crouch and others contend that the Wright Brothers documentation, their photographs and records, clearly demonstrates their 'first in flight' intention and success.
The press conference took place at the historic Dayton-Wright Airplane Company. Buildings surrounding the sight will eventually be demolished and the original Wright factory buildings will be added to the National Park System.