About Gustave Whitehead

Who flew first? Order “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight” to find out!

Photo of Gustave Whitehead

Portrait of Gustave Whitehead (born Gustav Albin Weisskopf, in Germany, 1874)

Learn more about Gustave Whitehead (German immigrant Gustav Weißkopf), true inventor of the airplane, with full documentary evidence, including new discoveries, provided in the compelling new book, “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight”.

In 1901, Gustave Whitehead invented, built, and flew the world’s first successful powered airplane. His pioneering first flights, which took place in Fairfield County, Connecticut, predated the Wrights by 28 months. The first flight, occurring on August 14, 1901, was witnessed and written up by a prominent newspaper reporter as an exclusive for the local paper, the Bridgeport Sunday Herald. A second set of flights occurred later in the morning, according to witnesses. The account was then carried in scores of newspapers internationally, with multiple local newspapers supporting his successful flights of the summer of 1901.

Afterward, Whitehead continued to develop, test and fly early powered airplanes up through at least 1908. The majority of his successful flights occurred between 1901-1902, with more reported from 1903-1911. Whitehead conducted many of his test flights in close proximity to populated areas so there were many witnesses. Sometimes he flew over entire neighborhoods, and his planes attracted much attention in the region.  Statements and affidavits from witnesses to the flights were gathered from 1901 up through the 1980′s. People who recall their older friends or relatives mentioning his flights are still coming forward at this writing.

Whitehead received international recognition for his early flights until attention shifted to the Wright brothers’ accomplishments, starting around 1904-1906.  Though a man with little money, who took jobs to support his family while he invented on a part-time basis, Whitehead accomplished what no one else before him had – true sustained flight, with power and control, for a distance of 1/2 a mile,  landing without damage, in 1901.  That first flight was the peak of his achievements, as even with longer flights to come, as it marked the beginning of the age of aviation. Whitehead never obtained adequate funding to continue developing his own designs.  Many of his early ideas, which he actively shared with other inventors, contributed to further development of the airplane.

Gustave Whitehead did not readily gain lasting fame nor any fortune from his inventions. Recognition of his accomplishments has been long in coming, for a variety of reasons. But one thing is certain, Whitehead flew successfully on numerous occasions before the Wrights made their flights at Kitty Hawk, and he deserves a place of honor in early aviation history. Born Gustav Albin Weisskopf, in Germany, 1874, orphaned by the age of 12, and immigrating to the United States in 1893, Whitehead’s story is one of overcoming adversity, chronicled in the new book, “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight”, complete with evidence of his powered flights, including new discoveries, available at www.gustavewhiteheadbook.com. An extensive, well-researched, excellent article, “Gustave Whitehead and the First Flight Controversy”, written by Frank Delear, is located on History.net.

On March 8, 2013, Paul Jackson, editor for “Jane’s All the World Aircraft” announced the “aviation bible’s” recognition of Gustave Whitehead as first to successfully fly a powered airplane, worldwide, with the Wrights taking second place. Memorialized in Jane’s 100th anniversary edition, this historic statement was soon followed by heated discussion between Whitehead and Wright “camps”, with an international media blitz that seemingly has reached into every home.  On June 27, 2013, CT Governor Malloy signed a bill recognizing Gustave Whitehead as “first in powered flight“, instead of the Wright brothers, touching off an additional storm of worldwide controversy.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.  (Arthur Schopenhauer)

“60 Minutes” December 27, 1987  Gustave Whitehead Segment

O’Dwyer vs. Peter Jakab Interviews, Andy Kosch & Whitehead Replica in flight


“It’s official: The Wright Bros weren’t first”

CBS News / 60 Minutes

By Evie Salomon   August 18, 2013 6:34 PM


“If you drive in North Carolina, you’ve seen the phrase, “First to Fly.” That’s the saying printed on the official state license plate and the historical event North Carolina has built an entire tourism industry on. But all of that is about to change.

Back in 1987, 60 Minutes aired a story called “Wright is Wrong?” questioning whether the Wright Brothers were actually the first people to fly a plane.

Our late correspondent Harry Reasoner went to Kitty Hawk, N.C., and the Wright Brothers monument and brought a local Connecticut investigation into the public eye.

“Nobody is arguing that Wilbur and Orville did it, but there are some folks in Connecticut who say this ought to be the Whitehead monument and it ought to be in Bridgeport,” Reasoner said.

Bridgeport, Conn., is where researchers say Gustave Whitehead, a German immigrant, first flew his aircraft two years ahead of the Wrights. Now, based on new evidence, the aeronautical journal “Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft” — the bible of aviation — has officially recognized Whitehead as first in flight, and the Connecticut legislature just passed a law confirming it as fact.

So how could the history books have gotten it wrong all these years? According to the 60 Minutes investigation, there were holes in the Whitehead story as well as several factors playing against them.

The main piece of evidence supporting Whitehead points to a story published on Aug. 18, 1901, in The Bridgeport Herald. With a drawing, the article described how Whitehead’s plane rose up in the air 40 feet and flew for half a mile. And though there were two eyewitnesses interviewed in the article, one was never tracked down again to confirm his statement and the other, James Dickie, retracted his initial statement in the article and signed a document denying his attendance at the event.

William O’Dwyer, a Bridgeport native and a pilot, went looking for Dickie to set the record straight. Based on the conversation the two had, O’Dwyer said Dickie changed his story because Whitehead owed him money.

“He prejudiced his testimony, his document is really worthless,” O’Dwyer said.

And later, it came to public attention that the Smithsonian Museum was legally bound by a 1948 contract, which states the Wright Brothers were the first in flight.

The contract was signed in exchange for the Wright Brother’s plane, and is still in force today. According to a statement released by The Smithsonian, the contract is a “less than exemplary moment in Smithsonian history.”

Last week, [Aug. 17, 2013] Bridgeport celebrated the 112th anniversary of Whitehead’s takeoff as well as the Connecticut law confirming Whitehead was indeed the first in flight. Watch Reasoner’s 1987 segment “Wright is Wrong?” in the player below [above].”


This website is owned and operated by Apex Educational Media. Its owner, Susan O’Dwyer Brinchman, M. Ed, resident of La Mesa, CA, has researched Gustave Whitehead and little known facts about early aviation for the past thirty years, and has been closely involved with the Whitehead research for 52 years. Ms. Brinchman is the author of  “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight” (May, 2015), a fully documented book containing all known evidence, including new discoveries, for Whitehead’s powered flights, with stunning revelations about the intrigue leading to the Wrights’ first flight credit.

She is the daughter of (and former research assistant to) Major William J. O’Dwyer (USAF, deceased), a Whitehead researcher and ultimately, world authority on Gustave Whitehead from 1963-2008, and co-founder of the Gustav Weisskopf Museum in Leutershausen, Germany. A highly qualified and experienced retired educator with a Masters Degree in Educational Technology, Ms. Brinchman holds four lifetime teaching credentials and is certified to teach Social Sciences (including History) at the secondary level.