There has been publicity recently that Gustave Whitehead flew a powered air (plane) device on 8/14/1901 and that is was reported in newspapers across the U.S. Look up info on this and you will find out that it seems that Whitehead was a bit of a fraud. He sent out, over the years, numerous claims of air flights. The local newspapers did not mention any flight by him in the days after the claimed flight. It later years he kept changing his accounts of the flight and the of the "engine" and steering device on the "plane". Air flight historians dismiss his reports as more of "hot air" than "up in the air".
Lately, the historians are starting to accept that Whitehead's claims quite possibly are true. History is not always what we are taught and our understanding of historical events changes as new evidence comes to light.
The Wright brother's have long been considered the first to fly a powered aircraft. There is no dispute that they flew - and that they flew on the date they claimed. They have a photo of the plane in flight and claim it is their first time, so the date they first flew is known. However, the photo only shows that they did fly, it does not prove that they were the first to fly. Also, their original plane is owned by the Smithsonian. There is a written contract which transferred the ownership of the plane to them which states that they can only keep the plane as long as they recognize that the Wright brother's were the first to fly. So there is a large well respected historical organization which is largely biased regarding the historical accuracy of this claim.
Whitehead supposedly flew a plane two years before the Wright brother's. There is a newspaper article from the day he flew describing the event. There are several signed affidavits from people who say they witnessed the flight. It is known that he successfully flew gliders before that. There are numerous photographs of the plane which he supposedly flew. A replica of the plane has been built and it does fly. While the first Wright plane is barely able to fly as it is very unstable, the replica of Whitehead's plane is stable and flies quite well. A photograph has recently been found from the 1906 First Annual exhibit of the Aero Club of America which has another photograph in the background which appears to match the drawing which appeared in the newspaper article describing his first flight.
There appears to be quite a bit of evidence which shows that he could have flown before the Wright brothers. There doesn't seem to be any hard evidence to show that he did not fly. If the replica of his plane wouldn't fly, then that would be an indication that maybe his claim is not true - but it does fly and flies well.
Is that enough to rewrite history? "Jane's All The Worlds Aircraft" seems to think so - in their 100th anniversary edition they listed Whitehead as the first to fly a powered plane in controlled flight.
Whitehead's airplane may not have been a success, but evidently the motors were a success.
The Feb. 10, 1906 Editorial of "The New York Herald" wrote about the Wrights and bore the headline: “Flyers or Lyers?”
Whitehead Motors Powered the First US Military Aircraft
In 1907, Whitehead was registered as one of the participants in the flying events at the World Fair in Jamestown, Virginia. It's not known if he himself displayed anything there. But one of his motors was accompanied Israel Ludlow's Whitehead-powered "Flying Machine". The construction of that machine had been financed by the US Navy. It was displayed as a hydroplane in Jamestown (without the motor), then with wheels at the Gordon-Bennet & Scientific American events in October 1907 in St. Louis (which were part of the Expo).
A Whitehead-Powered Airplane Took Off on the Smithsonian's Front Lawn
Development of that aircraft for the US Army Signal Corps.' trials at Fort Meyer continued until 1908. During tests just before the trials commenced, Ludlow's Whitehead-powered aircraft got briefly airborne. The test location was the front lawn of the Smithsonian Institute on the Washington Mall. The flight was only brief because the propeller shaft broke. Ludlow admitted ignoring Whitehead's advice about using the correct fly-wheel and had instead replaced it with a lighter one of less than half the correct weight.
Whose car is this?
Please keep in mind that Glen Curtis tried to rewrite history in order to prove that the Wright Brothers were not the first to achieve controlled powered flight. He was backed by the Smithsonian in attempting to fly a heavily modified version of the Langley Aerodrome. If there were any legitimate or even believable examples of controlled, powered flight that predated the Wright Brothers back in the '20s and '30s, Curtiss would have used them to fight the patent infringement lawsuit that the Wright's had leveled against his company.
the Wright Bros. patent was for a combination of wing warping and the use of a vertical rudder. The verdict of the case indicates that the Wright Bros. were not the first to use either - but were the first to combine them together. Whether or not someone had flown before the Wright Bros. was irrelevant in the case. The issue was if Curtis' use of wing warping and a rudder violated the Wright Bros. patent - which the court ruled it did.
John Brown recently did an investigation on Whitehead and in his investigation uncovered a lot of previously unknown information about him including almost 100 newspaper articles about his powered flights - all published before the Wright Bros' first flight. His research can be found here:
Anyone interested in this subject should watch Adam Smith's webinar - Flight Before the Wright Brothers at http://www.eaavideo.org/video.aspx?v=715566964001
Adam examines the claims by Whitehead and others. Although I have a copy of the webinar with better video, sadly the video on EAA's web site is still very poor (they do have better quality, but shamefully after several years have still not made it available on the web site).
I think it is the 1911 Stoddard Dayton Speed Car owned by Greg Cone.
The thing with this webinar is that it was given in December of 2010. John Brown did his research and uncovered lots more Whitehead evidence in 2012. So this webinar will not take into account any of that new research - which is quite extensive.
I think it is very funny that it would take over 0ne hundred years to say the Wright Brothers were not the first. I think it is a sad state that gropes have tried so hard and so long to discredit them. But it can not be said they were not the first with controlled flight.
I somewhat agree with Tim. Many have long worked to discredit the Wright Brothers, and although I am open to new evidence, I wouldn't be too quick to jump on the anti-Wrights bandwagon, any more than I would be quick to jump on the bandwagon of someone claiming that Henry Ford did not invent the Model T.
I did go through all the news articles at Flyingmag.com, and the only additional article I found regarding Whitehead was one about a monument being damaged-
If the evidence was really overwhelming in favor of Whitehead, I would think they would have had more in the way of followup to the March article. But, time will tell!
Anyone interested in this subject might also want to look at an article written by Tom Crouch, a senior curator in the Aeronautics Department at the National Air and Space Museum, and pro & con replies at:
At this point there is no documentary evidence supporting Whiteheads alleged powered flight, maybe someone, 115 years old will come up with a photo??? I doubt it.
Whitehead never documented his flight if it ever happened at all.
Powered flight is like many other things. Alexander Graham Bell was not the only one working on what became known as the telephone. Edison alone invented neither the light bulb, nor the phonograph. Marconi was not the only person trying to develop radio wave communications. And Benz only beat Daimler for the first running gasoline powered automobile by a few months. Most of my off-the-top-of-my head examples (except for Edison), did not know about the others working on the same things.
Many scientific developments come about because the time is right.
Several people had worked for many years trying to find the key to flight. What the Wright brothers did differently, and why they were credited with maybe even more than they should have been, was to develop (not create) the science of aerodynamics. They had taken what were the accepted "facts and figures", tried something that failed in spite of the fact that according to the "known science" at the time, it should have worked. They then came to the correct conclusion that most of what was "known", was in fact baloney.
What they did invent, was the "wind tunnel" (according to a book I read some years ago, the book actually claimed they invented "the science of aerodynamics"). It was a way to test and measure ideas and designs on model sizes. As their wind tunnels got bigger (still small by today's ideas), their developments and their mathematics got better. It was about two years between their early failure based upon flawed science, and their next attempt, which flew because they had actual figures to work with instead of someone else's guess.
It is possible, even likely, that Whitehead, Gilmore, (and a couple others I don't recall the names of off the top of my head), may have stumbled into powered flight before the Wrights. Certainly, it would have been soon thereafter. But without the contributions of the Wrights to the science of flight, future development would likely have dragged a decade or two slower.
Curtis, and everyone else benefited from the Wrights research much more than the Writes did from any of the others claiming the center spotlight. Like all major technological advances, flight is built upon the work of hundreds of people over many centuries. Curtis, Whitehead, Gilmore, even Karl Benz, contributed a lot to early powered flight.
Consider that the Wright brothers would have never first opened a bicycle repair shop if someone before them had not worked to build a better bicycle that would someday need repair. It is a big stage. Many people deserve to be spotlighted on it. However, in my humble opinion, the Wright brothers earned that center and biggest spotlight, more so than anyone else did. And many of them deserve to be remembered in our taught history more than they currently are. But then, that is a part of why some of us are in this hobby.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
Wayne, I seem to remember traveling through the Grass Valley area many years ago and coming upon a sign or monument describing something about a powered flight taking place there before the Wright Brothers flight. It was a long time ago when I saw it, and the details are sketchy now. Do you know anything about it?
That was Lyman Gilmore. There is a middle school named after him, built on his original airfield site. He was an eccentric, attempting to fly before the Wright brothers succeeded, with some success of his own. Unfortunately for him, it is unclear exactly when his first real success was, and some of his later efforts have cast doubts on his earlier claims. He was an early pioneer, and did fly very early. He also designed and proposed commercial airlines before most pioneers thought it was possible. He (and I think a brother?) were recognized as powered flight pioneers and visionaries even by better known pioneers while they were still alive.
That is what I know off the top of my head.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
i want to fly before the wright brothers someday. It will be a fantastic feat.
Good one Kep. Of course, you'll have to take off and land upside down to duplicate the Wrights flight.
This has been an interesting thread. I know a little about contradicting "current historical beliefs."
I have visited the Wright Brothers home in Oakwood Ohio. Only one of the brothers lived in it as the other died as it was being built. Some who visited the home were Henry Ford and Jimmy Stewert. But I got to put my hand on the workbench of a Wright Brother to me that was cool.
Great posts Wayne. In many of the period articles from the era I see posted about this Whitehead fellow, they mention that he is going to fly, or try to fly but they don't say he has flown. I find that a bit interesting but hardly evidentiary.
Thank you, Danial. That is the way it was around here. There are photos scattered all around town of Lyman Gilmore and his several planes in front of his barn (hanger). There were many local news reports, like you say, "He is going to fly", "He postponed his flight", "He has replaced the propeller", and on and on. His first confirmed flight was several months after the Wrights, although there were some claims of earlier flights. One other thing the Wrights did right, was to document their first flights. That, of course, helped them both for fame and for profit when it came to their patent infringement suits.
Drive carefully, and enjoy, W2
I have read it was the Wrights who first figured out yaw and how to correct for it - with a rudder. Without that, turns are dicey at best, and you don't really have controlled flight. I don't think Whitehead had more than pitch and bank in his controls.
Of course, the Wrights didn't go much beyond wing warping for banking in their later planes. Glenn Curtis pioneered ailerons, which are still used.
I've read history books that state Henry Ford invented the concept of the assembly line. Obviously false of course to those of us who know better, but try arguing with a third grader.
The Wright Brothers story is similar, in that they were the guys who were first to be successful and profitable in the aircraft industry. Whitehead had some operational success but didn't have whatever it took to reach the next level.
The Wright Brothers did not get rich on aviation. They were often misguided and bone headed. Glenn Curtiss practical and industrious. To be successful in aviation requires practicality and attention to detail. Curtiss was the first to do that.