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Gustave Whitehead First Flight Findings

Aviation historians examine controversial claims that Gustave Whitehead of Bridgeport, CT, flew successfully on August 14, 1901. A blurry photo purported to show Whitehead in flight is positively identified as a glider built by another aviator.


Beginning in March 2013, a small group of aviation enthusiasts have presented Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant living in Bridgeport, CT at the turn of the twentieth century, as the first man to successfully fly a powered airplane. The revival of this old story was occasioned by the promotion of a photo -- actually a photo within a photo -- allegedly showing Whitehead in flight on August 14, 1901.  As this anniversary approaches, organizations from Connecticut and  Germany promise new pronouncements to support this view.

Although the flights Whitehead claimed in 1901 and 1902 have been discredited by mainstream aviation historians many times before, scholarship is an ongoing process. Whitehead’s aeronautical career has been reviewed in detail since March and historians have made new discoveries.

1. THE PHOTO-IN-A-PHOTO HAS BEEN POSITIVELY IDENTIFIED AND IT DOES NOT SHOW WHITEHEAD FLYING. It is a photograph of a glider built by John J. Montgomery of Santa Clara, CA. The glider, called the “California,” was suspended from the trees in Agricultural Park in San  Jose, CA on May 21, 1905. That photo was displayed on a wall with other Montgomery materials at the Aero Club of America’s Exhibition  of Aeronautical Apparatus in January 1906 when its photo was taken.

2. WHITEHEAD COULD NOT HAVE MADE THE FLIGHTS HE CLAIMED IN 1902 BECAUSE THE AIRPLANE WAS NEVER BUILT. Whitehead claimed three powered flights -- a half-mile flight in 1901 using an airplane called the “No. 21,” and 2-mile and 7-mile flights in 1902 in the “No.22.” New research shows that the No. 22 never existed, some of the evidence coming from Whitehead’s own words.

3. WHITEHEAD SUPPORTERS HAVE CONSPIRED TO KEEP WHITEHEAD’S PAPERS FROM THE PUBLIC. Unlike the papers of other pioneer aviators, access to Whitehead’s personal effects are restricted and cannot be used to evaluate the accomplishments he claimed. In addition, researchers who  gain permission to see the papers must pay a massive “royalty of 60%” on all profits to use them.

We have available short papers to explain these discoveries, list sources, and provide links to additional information. Click here to download them in PDF format:


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