Apr 15, 2014
06:35 PM
The Connecticut Story

Gustave Whitehead First to Fly? Maybe. Will His Fairfield House Crash?

(page 3 of 3)

In an effort to help make Whitehead's case, modern engineers and aviation enthusiasts have built replicas of his aircraft. Andy Bosch, a board member of the Connecticut Air & Space Center in Stratford and a Whitehead expert, spearheaded the effort that saw a replica of No. 21 take flight in 1986 in Bridgeport.

A hang-gliding instructor and high school science teacher, Bosch was inspired after attending a lecture about Whitehead at the Fairfield Historical Society. He connected with Kaye Williams, of Captain's Cove Seaport in Bridgeport who provided him with a work space, and Bill Wargo, a carpentry teacher and champion model plane builder, and was able to construct a replica "in no time," says Bosch. "We then took it down to Bridgeport and flew the darn thing!" The first flight was on Dec. 7, 1986, and they then flew it repeatedly on subsequent days, with one flight going well over the length of a football field.

"The most surprising aspect was when it just left the ground," recalls Bosch. "I was just taxiing along at only about 20 mph or so, and a gust of wind came and picked me up about five feet in the air. It was just such a shock to see this thing just lift right up in the air so easily. That just convinced me, right then and there, if I can just pop up off the ground while just taxiing slowly, there's no reason why Gustave Whitehead couldn't have flown."

He then brought the aircraft to the Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in in Oshkosh, Wisc., where it was spotted by visitors from Whitehead's hometown in Germany, who quickly arranged for it to be transported to Germany. While there, Bosch advised as a second replica was built and flown.

"We now have two replicas that have flown," says Bosch, "That demonstrates the Whitehead design was certainly capable of flight."

Last year, an episode of Travel Channel's "Mysteries at the Museum" featured the Gustave Whitehead story, and included an interview with Bosch as well as video of his replica of Whitehead's No. 21 taking flight.

The fact that his designs were solid and that his aircraft could actually fly are just more evidence for those who believe Whitehead was first.

Between the newspaper accounts, eyewitnesses and other evidence, historian Brown feels that the evidence in Whitehead's corner is solid. "You can’t ignore it, but people do try," he says. "They come up with all sorts of hearsay, but if you just stick to the rules of evidence it leads you to the conclusion that Whitehead flew first."

"As we spread the story of Whitehead, more and more people will begin to investigate it, and then they'll have to look at the evidence and make up their own minds," says Bosch. "I think they will believe and accept the story of Whitehead when they really look at the facts."

Ironically, Brown, a project manager for a German aircraft manufacturer, would never have gotten involved in the Whitehead saga if not for Crouch and the Smithsonian, who had asked him to do some research for a Smithsonian Channel program about the history of roadable aircraft. "[Crouch] was so insistent that Whitehead had never flown, it just got me very curious," says Brown. "When I started researching for the special, I thought I was going to be going back to the 1950s, maybe the 1940s, but then I got back to pre-Wright Brothers, and I found several balloons that were attached to bicycles in the 1880s and stuff like that, and realized that this subject was much bigger than I thought.”

It was doing this research when Brown came across Whitehead's story. ("Whitehead’s plane could actually fold its wings together and drive along the road to get to the starting point because there were no airports, of course, back in 1901," he says.) The rest is history.

Or at least trying to become history.

"Napoleon said, ‘History is the lie we agree upon,'" says Brown, who is encouraged by the positive recognition from Connecticut and peers like Jane's All the World's Aircraft. "Now society has to agree that Whitehead was first, too. So I think it’s all a very good first step to changing all of these wrongs that have been attributed to the Wrights.”


Gustave Whitehead First to Fly? Maybe. Will His Fairfield House Crash?

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