Kelly to Ohio: Prove it! [Monroe Courier]

June 1, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Monroe Courier

State Sen. Kevin Kelly is sticking to his guns in a multi-state dispute over just who was first in flight.

Kelly, a Republican who represents most of Monroe, recently chided lawmakers in Ohio, who last week passed a resolution repudiating Gustave Whitehead as the first person to fly a powered aircraft. Orville and Wilbur Wright, traditionally credited as having flown the first plane, were bicycle makers from Dayton.

“I’m curious to know how Ohio lawmakers can suggest Whitehead never flew,” Kelly said. “Where’s their proof?”

Kelly and a number of historians, including the publishers of the annual aviation encyclopedia Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, believe Whitehead actually flew a distance of about a half-mile as early as 1901, two years before the Wright Brothers first flew their plane in North Carolina. Others, including the Smithsonian, remain committed to the Wrights as the first aviators.

In 2014, the state legislature passed Joint Resolution 87, recognizing Connecticut as the location of the first manned, powered flight. Kelly has since introduced a bill designating Aug. 14 as Gustave Whitehead Day. The bill failed in committee last year. There is also legislation being proposed to name Whitehead’s Number 21 as the state’s official Pioneering Aircraft.

Ohio’s resolution rejected the Whitehead claim, stating that there was not enough evidence to change history. Kelly denied the claim.

“Those entrusted with our nation’s history and Ohio lawmakers should be intrigued to figure this out and instead are shutting it down,” Kelly said. “Why aren’t they even intrigued at having an intellectual debate on this?”

Kelly also pointed out that the Wrights were Ohio residents, but their flights actually took place in North Carolina.

“It is certainly admirable to acknowledge the Wright Brothers’ place of birth, but if history serves me correctly they actually flew in North Carolina,” he said. “I suppose two states can share having pioneers in the field of aviation. I would be glad to support a joint resolution between Connecticut and North Carolina. Two states celebrating the marvel of flight together could be exciting.”

For now, though, Kelly said Connecticut would continue to acknowledge the man who is truly first in flight.

“On Aug. 14, I will be celebrating Gustave Whitehead Day in Connecticut and with any luck Whitehead’s Number 21 will become the state’s Pioneering Aircraft.”