Editorial: Flying in the face of history

Oct. 24, 2013 @ 10:27 PM

Bonjour! Or shall we say, guten morgen!

The insurance commercial with the French punch line really does tell the truth. On the Internet, fact checks are not guaranteed.

And from what we’ve learned, it was a website serving as the latest point of origin to oppose our proud North Carolina claim to being the site of the first powered flight. Again.

Yes, this is 2013. The Wright brothers certainly flew the “Flyer” on Dec. 17, 1903. Evidence it happened is unquestioned, even 110 years later.

Since then, the Great North State has referred to itself as “First in Flight,” most prominently on license plates. And Ohio, longtime home and native state for Orville and Wilbur, has rightly called itself the “Birthplace of Aviation.”

Connecticut has been provoked. The Nutmeggers are cheering a bill signed this summer by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, which states his office “shall proclaim a date certain in each year as Powered Flight Day to honor the first powered flight.”

They say it was by Gustave Whitehead, a German-born aviator who made Bridgeport, Conn., his home. Reportedly, he flew the “Condor” on Aug. 14, 1901, in Stratford, Conn.

What Whitehead didn’t do, for sure, was go tell the world. The Wrights did, taking their plane to Europe among other places.

And, many of us have seen the iconic photograph of a photograph being taken of the plane in flight. In short, there’s no question about the Wrights and when.

But back to the Internet and the early 1900s. A 1906 aviation exhibition in New York mentions a photograph of Whitehead’s flight, which is since missing. In a panoramic photo of the exhibit, discovered earlier this year by Australian John Brown, the missing picture is seen in the photo, and then enlarged 3,500 percent. Some research, posting on a website, and an endorsement from Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft — considered an aviation authority, we should add — led the lawmakers in Connecticut to their new law.

While there are one-hit wonders in many aspects of life, none of Whitehead’s machines got off the ground from 1902 on — none.

And we’re not convinced one did before either.