State is right to fight flight history [Norwich Bulletin]

May 4, 2015

Norwich Bulletin Editorial

Connecticut is a state that can, and should, be celebrated as having something first. Our state was the first in the country to have a municipal library (in New Haven in 1656), the first highway (between Norwich and New London, surveyed in 1670), the first steel mill (in Simsbury in 1728), the first submarine (in 1775), the first dictionary (in 1783) and first cotton gin (in 1793, which bolstered the economy in the south).

That’s only in the state’s first 150 years.

There has been a battle in the few years to determine that Connecticut is the first in something else – flight.

Americans have long been told that the Wright Brothers, Orville and Wilbur, made the first manned, powered flight in 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers were born in Dayton, leading Ohio to claim it’s the birthplace of flight. Dayton-based The National Aviation Heritage Alliance is fighting a claim that may not be the case.

A Stratford state senator, Kevin Kelly, continues to press that claim. He says that the state General Assembly should make sure to pay attention to what he calls “mounting evidence” that Gustave Whitehead of Bridgeport actually flew first.

The battle began about two years ago, when Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft ran a column saying there was new evidence that Whitehead flew two years before the Wright Brothers. Jane’s editor recently wrote that the column “was intended to stimulate discussion about first in flight.”

That it has.

It may be years before the first in flight discussion has a conclusion. For its part, Jane’s has taken a step back about choosing sides. And there is no reason two states can’t share in having pioneers in the field of aviation.

It also brings up the question: Why is Ohio involved? It is certainly commendable to acknowledge the Wright Brothers’ place of birth, but they actually flew in North Carolina. Stephen F. Austin, for example, is not celebrated in his birthplace of Virginia but in Texas, where he made history.

If Connecticut is to lose this argument, one might think it would be to North Carolina, not Ohio. But that’s a discussion for another day.