Mayor Bill Finch and Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau are brothers-in-arms when it comes to the recently released research by the renowned publication Jane’s All the World Aircraft that recognizes Bridgeport resident Gustave Whitehead’s first powered flight in 1901. Paul Jackson, editor of Jane’s All the World Aircraft validated and built upon the evidence that Whitehead, and not the Wright brothers, flew first in flights over Fairfield and Bridgeport, in news accounts published during the week. Full details of Whitehead’s flight accomplishments: www.gustave-whitehead.com.
Whitehead’s accomplishments have been grounded largely because of a dubious agreement the Smithsonian had with the Wright brothers recognizing them as the first to fly. The myopic minds at the Smithsonian still maintain there isn’t sufficient evidence to recognize Whitehead’s first.
Jackson announced founder Fred Jane would have approved of any efforts to “get the facts right, whatever the delay. Thanks to the meticulous researches of John Brown–to whose website www.gustave-whitehead.com we earnestly recommend readers seeking greater detail–an injustice is rectified with only slight bruising to Wilbur and Orville’s reputation. The Wrights were right; but Whitehead was ahead.”
Finch, a Bridgeport history buff, says “Jane’s has solidified what we’ve known all along–Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly a powered, manned aircraft before the Wright Brothers, and he did it right here in Bridgeport. Perhaps now, Whitehead will receive the recognition from in this country that he so richly deserves.”
The Bridgeport Herald reported in August of 1901 that Whitehead piloted his No. 21 flyer in a flight that kept him airborne over a distance of about a half-mile and up to an altitude of about 40 feet.
Historian John Brown digitally enlarged an old dusty photograph, reviewed by an analyst for the state police in Bavaria where Whitehead’s accomplishments are treasured in his native Germany, that shows Whitehead’s plane in flight, an image referenced by journalists but not reproduced during a photography era difficult to capture moving objects.
Whitehead has been recognized as the Father of Connecticut Aviation since 1968, but national recognition had not followed.
In 2011 Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum celebrated “Bridgeport First in Flight” for the 110th anniversary of Whitehead’s first flight. The museum hosted officials from the German Consulate in New York City, descendents of Whitehead, and officials from the Whitehead Museum in Leutershausen Germany.
Last May, the city dedicated a fountain at the corner of Fairfield Avenue and State Street to commemorate Whitehead’s aviation first. The fountain features a black granite base with four burbling fountains and is topped by a sculpture of Whitehead’s early flying machine. The sculpture features moving propellers, and the entire piece will move with the wind. A granite tablet will be installed across the street with a descriptive engraving which reads: “Gustave Albin Whitehead, born Gustav Albin Weiskopf in Leutershausen, Bavaria, emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1893, anglicizing his name to Gustave Whitehead. According to eyewitnesses: ‘I recall a time, which I think was probably July or August of 1901 or 1902, when this plane was started in flight on the between Pine and Cherry Streets. The plane flew at a height of about twelve feet from the ground, I should judge, and traveled the distance to Bostwick Avenue before it came to ground. I recall the incident very well because I was one of several boys who clung to the back of the plane as it rose into the air and carried us off our feet until we were driven away by some of the men working with Gustave Whitehead.’ ”
The sculpture is under repair after suffering damage during Hurricane Sandy last fall, according to the mayor’s office.
Rob Foley, founder of the Bridgeport Digital Humanities Initiative, and a recipient of a Mayor’s Arts and Cultural Heritage grant, promotes research and scholarship of Bridgeport’s history by creating digital online archives. Foley co-hosts “Bridgeport Now,” a live, weekly show on Cable Access Channel 88 every Tuesday at 8 p.m.. His Tuesday show was devoted to Whitehead’s aviation accomplishments and included interviews with aviation historian John Brown and Paul Jackson of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft. His Tuesday show can also be viewed at www.soundviewtv.org.