First In Flight

Everyone likes a good, well thought out conspiracy theory and this day and age there are plenty to go around. Who really shot JFK, who was really behind 9/11, is the government covering up our contact with aliens, did an alien spacecraft crash land in Roswell New Mexico? These are just a few of the more popular ones.

In most of these conspiracies there is little evidence to suggest something different happened other than what was reported. However, I will say that with a few of the above mentioned happenings there are some strange occurrences that make you question what was originally reported. What that being said, what I am going to talk about I do not think falls into the realm of conspiracy rather, perhaps, just how history was reported and worked out.

What we are going talk about is a man named Gustave Whitehead. Who the hell is Gustave Whitehead? Well I will tell you in due time, but first we must talk about something else. Let’s start with two men named Wilbur and Orville. Those names probably do not ring a bell, I would assume you know them collectively as the Wright Brothers, who are famous and given credit for having invented the airplane and being the first to man an aircraft during flight.

Their first flights were well documented, and the first manned flight too place at the famous Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on October 3rd 1900. The bothers used a glider they built and were only able to “fly” a few feet at a time. Still this was revolutionary at the time. The reason was because the glider was poorly designed (I say that with the upmost respect as this was the first airplane). The wings on the glider created little lift sufficient for long flights. Modern science tells us that in order to create lift, which is what makes planes fly, the wing is mostly flat on the bottom and bubble shaped on top. This causes wind to move slower over the top of the wing and faster over the bottom. This creates lift and will raise the aircraft, creating lift and or sustained flight. The Wright Brothers did not necessarily know all this and had to figure it out by trial and error. Being the first to do anything I am sure is rather frustrating, as you are writing the book on “how to” as you go.

In the following years the bothers would  test and fly subsequent gliders. However, in 1903 they decided to add power to the mix, creating the Wright Flyer I, which I think constitutes as the first airplane as it actually had an engine attached. The first powered flight was witnessed by five people and pictures were taken to prove the events actually took place. Despite the witnesses there was still much doubt that the event actually took place among the media not only in the United States, but also across the world.

In the following years the Wright Brothers eventually began to perfect their craft and were one of the very first pioneers in an entirely new field of science. Just think in just 40 years following the invention they had created it had been capable of seconds of flight time traveling a few feet off the ground. Soon this simple invention was turned into one of the greatest machines of death. During WWII long range bombers created untold devastation and helped the allies win the war. It is amazing to think that all that occurred in just under half a century and with these simple flights in North Carolina.

Now where does Gustave Whitehead play into all this?

Well Mr. Whitehead was also an aviation pioneer who designed and built gliders right around the same time as the Wright Brothers. What is very interesting about Whitehead is that he claims to have piloted a powered aircraft in 1901, a full two years before the Wright Brothers. What is even more interesting about this claim is that there are witnesses and a local newspaper that claims to have seen this actually happen. As you can imagine this is where there is much debate, as despite the eye witness and the newspaper report there is no photograph evidence of the event that has been found.

So, where does that leave us? Well based on what I have read, and that is sparse, there does seem to be enough evidence to, at the very least, think twice about this situation. I am not saying that this guy should be given credit, but it certainly does seem that more research needs to be looked at. While I say that I do not think in any way that the Wright Brothers will be forfeiting their title any time soon. It seems to me that this is along the lines of the who discovered America idea. Maybe this guy did fly first, but because the Wright Brothers flights were better documented, history will undoubtedly give them credit.

History is funny in that sense, as it is not always right, and seems to give credit where perhaps credit is not necessarily due, or perhaps credit given for the wrong reasons. Again I do not know which side is right, and I certainly am not insinuating that Gustave Whitefield was first in flight, and should be given credit. All I am saying is that there is some potentially credible evidence to suggest that Whitehead may have been first. I will also say that his eye witnesses could just be lying, saying that the flight did indeed happen. The only real difference between the two instances seems to be a photograph. The Wright Brothers have photograph evidence of their flights. Whitefield did not have any photograph evidence. Although in the newspaper article there was a drawing of the flight which was said to be based on a photograph, but that photograph has never been found. So, I suppose take that however you like.

I will say again that what I think is interesting is how history views certain things, or certain events, and who is given credit for what. If you get a chance also look up Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray, as to who really invented the telephone. History give credit to Bell mainly because he was supposedly the first to the patent office. Pretty strange. I think at the end of the day both Gustave Whitehead and the Wright Brothers helped usher in a new era of technological advancement. For basically all of history it was thought manned heavier than air flight was impossible, both of these men proved that idea wrong. Not only that but ushered in a brand new era defining technology. As I mentioned above, in just under half a century this new technology went from gliders made of wood and canvas to bombers and fighters capable of reaching altitudes of 30,000 feet and carrying thousands of pounds, not to mention trans-Atlantic journeys taking hours instead of weeks. That is simply amazing!


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