Civics / Politics

Ohio Legislators Come to the Defense of the Wright Brothers

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Ohio Legislators Come to the Defense of the Wright Brothers
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A new battle has opened up in the civil war over which state was really first in flight. The main belligerents are known to most of us; Ohio claims Orville and Wilbur Wright as beloved native sons who built and flew the first airplane, while North Carolina claims the testing ground where the Wright Flyer first left the ground.

But recently Connecticut, of all places, has entered the fray by submitting their own Gustave Whitehead as the true first flyer. According to some, Whitehead allegedly launched an airplane in Fairfield, Connecticut two years before the Wright brothers. Connecticut’s government appears to believe Whitehead’s hundred-year-old claim on the greatest engineering achievement of the modern age and passed legislation in 2013 honoring him as the first in flight and kicking the Wrights of Dayton to the curb.

This week, the dogfight continued as Ohio returned fire in the form of House Concurrent Resolution 8; “To repudiate the claim by the State of Connecticut that Gustave Whitehead successfully flew a powered, heavier than air machine of his own design on August 14, 1901, or on any other date.”

Over the course of nine “Whereas’s” and two “Resolved’s,” the House of Representatives hammered away at Connecticut’s claim, arguing that “scholarly research by respected and academically credentialed historians over many decades has found no evidence to substantiate the Whitehead claims,” and “a publicized digital image, purported to be an enhanced copy of a photograph that shows Gustave Whitehead’s 1901 machine in flight, reveals only indistinct shapes.”

The resolution passed on Tuesday with 92 “yaes” and zero “nays.”

So how likely is it that the Wright brothers weren’t really first in flight and Gustave Whitehead was cheated out of his rightful place in scientific history? Even Connecticut’s largest newspaper thinks Whitehead’s claim is pretty weak. On Monday, The Hartford Courant published an editorial dismissing Whitehead’s supposed first flight for lack of evidence, calling the state’s 2013 legislation a “stunt.”

For the moment, aeronautical history appears concrete; Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first men to leave the ground in a powered, heavier-than-air flying machine. The war over first in flight remains a conflict over which is more important, the state that provided the runway or the state that provided the pilots. Of course, the next time Ohio’s air superiority is threatened, the General Assembly might also think to mention the 24 NASA astronauts who have come out of the Buckeye State, bolstering the notion that Ohioans are the true rulers of the sky and beyond.

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