Dec. 17--Today marks the 110th anniversary of the first manned, powered flight, which took place at Kitty Hawk.
Orville and Wilbur Wright are acclaimed as aviation pioneers.
Except in Connecticut, where earlier this year a state resolution boasted that Gustave Whitehead was more than two years ahead of the Wright Brothers in achieving liftoff. This supposedly happened on Aug. 14, 1901, in Bridgeport, Conn.
The fanciful claim was based on a long-lost photograph that purported to show an airborne Whitehead -- who indeed was working on a flying machine at the time. Unfortunately for Connecticut, the photo reveals no such thing. Instead, according to aviation historian Carroll F. Gray, the image is that of a glider, and it was taken in California in 1905.
The Whitehead story never made sense. Although the German immigrant was an accomplished mechanic and designer of gliders and other aircraft, he never achieved documented success with powered flight. Had he really flown in 1901, at the age of only 28, it's absurd to think he would have abandoned his work rather than pursue further improvements.
The Wrights, on the other hand, kept detailed records as they designed gliders and powered aircraft in their Dayton, Ohio, shop during the 1890s. They traveled each year from 1900 to 1903 to the Outer Banks for assembly, testing and finally takeoff. The beach provided strong winds and soft landings, a combination perfectly matched to their high hopes and practical concerns. There, on Dec. 17, 1903, they first achieved sustained powered flight. There were many witnesses to their success and clear photographs.
Significantly, they didn't congratulate themselves and retire from the flying business. They continued to improve their designs and build more aircraft. In less than two years, they extended their range to 24 miles -- the limit of their gas tank. The next year, they were granted the inaugural patent for their aircraft design. Their role in the progression of aviation was firmly established.
Over the years, the states of North Carolina and Ohio have engaged in friendly feuding about their claims to the Wright Brothers. North Carolina declares its First in Flight status and, of course, is the home of the Wright Brothers National Memorial on the historic site. It is a beautiful and inspiring place where visitors can stride the path of the first four flights, each one longer than the one before -- from just 120 feet to 852 feet.
Ohio calls itself the Birthplace of Aviation and hosts the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. Wright-Patterson Air Force base is just a few miles out of town.
Both states are entitled to their bragging rights -- and both would agree that Connecticut's attempt to rewrite aviation history won't get off the ground.
Today is universally celebrated as the anniversary of the Wright Brothers historic flight, which forever changed human beings' relationship with the earth and sky.
Copyright 2013 - News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.
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