Senator Kelly Wants New Holiday to Honor Connecticut Aviation Pioneer

February 9, 2015

Hartford – State Senator Kevin Kelly (R-21) wants to create a new state holiday. The Stratford lawmaker is proposing legislation to designate August 14 as Gustave Whitehead, First in Flight, Day.

Today, Senator Kelly submitted testimony to the state’s Transportation Committee explaining the importance of his bill (Senate Bill 772).

“Gustave Whitehead is an important part of Bridgeport history, Connecticut history, and our nation’s history,” Sen. Kelly said. “As an aviation pioneer who came to the United States from Germany in 1893, he embodied the American dream and Connecticut spirit of innovation. He also became the first man to make a manned, powered, controlled flight on August 14, 1901 near Bridgeport, Connecticut.”

Kelly’s proposed bill would commemorate ­the exact day of Whitehead’s first flight.

Despite traditional historic accounts that celebrate the Wright brothers as the first people to fly, reports uncovered over the past century have revealed that Whitehead was actually the first person to take flight, approximately two years before the Wright brothers flew in Kitty Hawk, N.C.

After the annual aviation encyclopedia “Jane’s All the World Airplanes” named Whitehead first in flight in 2013, Connecticut also officially recognized Whitehead. The Connecticut legislature passed Public Act 13-210, which specifies that Powered Flight Day is in honor of the first powered flight by Gustave Whitehead, rather than the Wright Brothers. In 2014, Connecticut also passed a resolution officially recognizing Connecticut as first in flight and honoring Whitehead’s flight for paving the way for Connecticut to be a leader in aviation innovation.

“In recent years, Representative Larry Miller has spearheaded the charge to garner recognition for Whitehead’s accomplishments in Connecticut. After Larry’s passing, Connecticut now must continue to work to ensure that the true aviation history is honored and remembered,” said Sen. Kelly, “I am proposing this legislation to further this recognition and celebration of Whitehead by commemorating the exact day of Whitehead’s first flight.”

The history of Gustave Whitehead is being challenged in another state this year. In Ohio, the birthplace of the Wright brothers, State Representative Rick Perales is proposing legislation to declare that Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first to fly a plane.

“Facing this opposition, Connecticut must stand strongly behind the history we know to be true,” said Kelly. “Senate Bill 772 will send a clear message: Connecticut was the birthplace of powered flight. Celebrating the exact historic day that changed history, we can ensure future generations never forget.”

“I have nothing against Ohio, I’m even a Cleveland Browns fan,” said Kelly, “but Ohio is wrong about this.”

Senator Kelly is also proposing legislation this year that would designate Whitehead’s “Number 21” aircraft the state pioneering aircraft, to further honor Whitehead’s accomplishment in Bridgeport.