Analysis of a Group Statement Re: Gustave Whitehead Flight Claims (Updated 8.3.15)

(Updated 8.3.15)

The author of “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight” provides this analysis of a group statement re: Gustave Whitehead, issued in 2013, allegedly signed* by 39 persons, widely distributed via the Internet, finding many flaws and inaccuracies. It is this author’s position that a Whitehead statement by unqualified persons or those with conflicts of interest, bias, or who have engaged in no research or poor research, is, essentially, worthless as evidence of any kind. Certainly, persons have the right to sign anything they wish, though in this case, this analysis will point out flaws in this group statement. However, it must be said that the author recognizes that many of the signers may have signed in good faith, not realizing the flaws in the Statement. In any case, this analysis will inform them, as well as all interested parties, and the general public, collectively being subjected to the Statement, to some degree, via the Internet. This analysis is aimed at improving the quality of early aviation history and alerting the public to problems with the group statement on Gustave Whitehead, itself.

*the published version appears to be, technically, unsigned; it simply lists names of persons who have allegedly signed. This has also been a problem with the alleged “Beach Whitehead Statement” of 1939 (see Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight, p. 320-325).

“The Statement” (as it shall be called, hereafter) was hazily referenced in Time Magazine of Nov.23, 2013, and vaguely cited, recently, by author David McCullough in an interview, perhaps even as an influence, in addition to his seeking out the Smithsonian curators’ opinions as a main source for the one paragraph statement in his book “The Wright Brothers”, which says essentially, there is no evidence Gustave Whitehead flew. This analysis is an alert to those who might use “the Statement” as credible, and therefore, as a source. They might think twice about it!

This analysis is especially conducted in the interest of pointing out inaccuracies, important potential “conflicts of interest”, potential bias, “history of bias”, potentially concerning some of the signatories and/or sources they may have consulted, and to provide alerts for possible”misconduct of research” issues concerning likely sources for the Statement, while updating the historical record, and providing information to the esteemed signatories.


Statement Regarding The Gustave Whitehead Claims of Flight (to be referred to herein as “the Statement”) (issued October 24, 2013)

“We the undersigned are convinced that the evidence now available fails to support the claim that Gustave Whitehead made sustained, powered, controlled flights prior to the Wright brothers.”

The Statement goes on to name the following alleged reasons (paraphrased herein):

  1. A single flawed newspaper article is the basis of the flight claim
  2. “Questionable witness testimony gathered more than 30 years after the fact” is the basis of Whitehead flight claims.
  3. Whitehead’s claims were rejected by local newspapers.
  4. Whitehead’s claims were rejected “by individuals in the best position to judge”, including all sponsors.
  5. “Whitehead left no letters, diaries, notebooks, calculations, or drawings recording his experiments, his thoughts, or the details of his craft.”
  6. Whitehead researchers fail to “produce a single image of a powered Whitehead machine in flight”.
  7. The recent ‘discovery’ of an image has been proven not to be of Whitehead’s machine.

The Statement further compares Whitehead evidence in contrast to the “meticulous and multi-layered records documenting the success of the Wright brothers and other bona fide pioneers of aviation”.



The Statement appears not take into consideration the full body of Whitehead evidence, nor the fact that most of the Wright evidence for first flight credit was self-generated, produced five or more years later, at the start of years of aggressive lawsuits aimed at control of and profit from world aviation. Also, very important additional Whitehead evidence (published in Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight) has surfaced since the issuance of the Statement, which signatories are encouraged to read for themselves, rather than having the information interpreted by others.

The Statement concludes “the decision [for Whitehead] must remain, not proven”. It strongly urges “those who support the Whitehead claims to seriously reconsider the evidence in the case and to rethink their position”. I respectfully now ask the signatories to do the same.

The 39 individuals listed as allegedly signing this statement are a widely assorted assemblage of various persons  affiliated with or interested in aviation and aviation history; amongst them are a number of known, prominent, longtime Gustave Whitehead critics and Wright supporters from both the USA and the United Kingdom. The full signatories consist of aviation museum directors & administrators, historians, editors, a manuscript specialist, an aviation executive, archivists, journalists, former organizational board members, two professors, a pilot, a filmmaker, and a wide number of self-described authors.


There are no disclaimers visible concerning any conflicts of interest (intangible or tangible – ie., financial) and no analysis of how many are or are not bound by the Smithsonian-Wright Agreement of 1948 (aka “the Contract”) to support recognition of ONLY Orville Wright as “first in flight” (or cause the Smithsonian to lose the Wright Flyer); however, one of those is definitely on that list – Thomas Crouch, PhD (Senior Curator, NASM). Considering up to 200 Smithsonian-affiliated museums and research facilities in the USA are bound by “the Contract”, it would follow that all of their staff would fall into that category – perhaps up to 3,000+ historians and staff associated with those institutions. In addition, others may be under its influence in a myriad of other ways. Signers with obvious conflicts of interest, particularly if they work for a facility required under contract to recognize Orville Wright as “first in flight”, should be noted as such, on the Statement.

Some of the signers can readily be shown to have received compensation for writing negative – and easily shown, inaccurate –  articles about Gustave Whitehead in the past. Or, conversely, they have written or published books, magazine articles, or websites praising the Wrights as “first in flight”.  Some of the signers may belong to organizations or associations closely affiliated with the Wrights or supporting them as “first in flight”.  This may also be considered a conflict of interest and could eliminate a significant number on the list. A particularly egregious example, again, is Thomas Crouch, PhD, a native of Dayton, Ohio, who attended Wright State University, is employed as Senior Curator at Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, staunchly defends the Wrights as first in flight, disparages Whitehead research and claims at every opportunity, works under the black cloud of the Smithsonian-Wright Agreement of 1948, requiring him to recognize Orville Wright and the Wright Flyer I as first in flight (despite much emerging evidence long in the Smithsonian’s possession showing Orville’s flights as failures on Dec. 17, 1903), and is an author, widely written published histories of the Wrights, oftentimes published by the Smithsonian.** Dr. Crouch, a longtime Whitehead detractor, has been said to compare the Whitehead claims and research as “a disease” needing to be stamped out.

David McCullough biography steeped in esteem for The Wright Brothers
The Columbus Dispatch (May 10, 2015) (Columbus OH)

Q: Why is there still a feud between Ohio and Connecticut, which claims that Gustave Whitehead flew a plane before the Wrights did?

A: I talked to the experts at the Smithsonian, and they say there’s nothing to that. The claim surfaces about every 25 years, like a disease that hits every generation.

** See Gustave Whitehead FAQ for further articles on Smithsonian’s longterm conduct with regards to the Wrights and Whitehead.


Signatories or sources with published writings about Gustave Whitehead (and early aviation “first flight” credit to entities such as the Wright brothers) should also be examined for potential presence or allegations of “misconduct of research“, including past fabrication and falsification. This type of complaint, for instance, perhaps worded differently, has been an ongoing problem with the examination of Whitehead and Wright flight claims, particularly, but not limited to, the Smithsonian Institution (see section on Conflicts of Interest, above). While this term may be reserved more for formal, published academic research, which has not occurred with the Whitehead claim, to date, it is of high significance, it also may be applied to institutional or corporate research. This author frequently sees what appear to be fabrications, falsifications, and less often, plagiarism, in Whitehead articles currently online and in official pronouncements on Whitehead from institutional settings. However, signatories engaging in any alleged potential misconduct of research or repeating those alleged fabrications or falsifications in their own writings (or merely basing their approval on poor research) lessen the value of the Statement.


One might ask, what are the specific qualifications of this group to judge Whitehead’s flight claims? Simply being a pilot, an author on other topics, an editor, interested in aviation history, writing about it, being a hobby or professional historian surely does not qualify one to be knowledgeable or expert on every topic, particularly concerning Gustave Whitehead. This is true in any field. For instance, if one were to obtain brain surgery from a dentist, the outcome would be obvious. One does not seek a train conductor to fly an airplane. By the same token, having a list of unqualified persons sign a statement means the statement should not be used as a credible source. This is especially true as the Whitehead history and evidence has widely been inaccurately represented, publicly, and in a biased manner, notably, by some of the signatories. Some of the signers can be shown to have demonstrated longtime bias against Whitehead claims, their objections essentially “based on thin air” – easily shown by examining their biased and inaccurate writings. An example is publishing the statement “Whitehead never left the ground”, a statement completely unsupported by primary source research.

The qualifications of prior bona fide Whitehead experts have included those who extensively conducted original research with persons involved with the historic local news media, eyewitnesses, Whitehead contemporaries, and archival sources and the entire body of Whitehead historical records. None of the signatories fall into this category. So, how did they decide to sign? Who wrote the Statement? How did this person or persons qualify to do so? Who obtained the signatures? Under what conditions, one might ask, did those signatories allegedly sign this document, stating they agreed with the Statement? Would they have all signed, knowing these flaws?


None of the signatories have been identified as individuals who visited original Gustave Whitehead files of Maj. William J. O’Dwyer, at the Fairfield Museum, in Fairfield, CT., to examine the largest collection of Whitehead evidence, nor is there any knowledge of who on the list has visited the Whitehead files in Dallas, TX or the files and museum that exist in Leutershausen, Germany; the full Whitehead and associated files at the Library of Congress; or inspected the records of the witness testimony given to and collected by the CT Aeronautical Historical Association (CAHA). None have, in good faith, contacted this author for information about the Gustave Whitehead evidence, even though I am widely known to have had access to and conducted portions of the Whitehead research. I was reported in the media to have been working on a Whitehead manuscript, now published in an academically presented book, “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight“, listing all known evidence for Whitehead’s flights. However, the Statement was signed 1.5 years prior to the book’s publication, and it is only fair to note, Whitehead evidence has been, historically, very hard to obtain due to the distance between multiple archives where it is available to the public, and past books, which are out of print, were less rigorously documented. Much had been learned since their writing, however, not all of that was in print, till “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight” was published in May, 2015. The US Congress and Smithsonian has, repeatedly, been asked, since the mid-1930’s, to conduct a neutral investigation of Whitehead’s flight claims, and they chose not to. At this writing, that request appears to be impossible to fill, as the Smithsonian is so heavily biased, as are all of their affiliates, and most of their associates, that a neutral and fair evaluation would be impossible, including anywhere in the world where Smithsonian has influence. In addition, the Wrights have been so glorified, by this time, the legend so systematically built up, that they are seen now as national – and even, international – heroes and near-deities for many, especially with aviation historians, but including the general public, that it is doubtful in the current time that a neutral formal investigation by an institution such as Smithsonian or any counterparts, could take place and have a fair outcome. Currently, and I say this sadly, it would be just too political. Perhaps at a time in the distant future, when those so closely associated with the Wright claim to first flight are no longer present to influence or muddy the waters, a fair and just investigation might occur.

I encourage all signatories to at least look more deeply into the Whitehead evidence, which is far easier to do now that it is available in book form.

It can be said, with certainty, that most of the Statement is not reflective of current or accurate knowledge. There is also no indication of who wrote the Statement, gathered the signatures, or what his/her/their motivations were. There are no citations or evidence given for any portion of the position statement, either, that this author has seen.

The Statement allegedly signed by this group therefore appears to have a number of flaws that perhaps the signatories were unaware of, or that were unknown of at the time of the signing (2013). These are presented below. It should be noted that this author agrees with a small portion of the Statement and commends the entire group for their strong interest in the fascinating topic of early aviation history, which is something we have in common.

It is this author’s opinion that the Smithsonian-Wright Agreement of 1948, still in force, is one of the worst contributors to bias and a most damaging blockade to the evaluation of early aviation historical evidence, and therefore, calls upon all signatories who truly love early aviation history to demand its removal.

This author, one of the few on earth still alive, closely associated with the original research and eyewitnesses for the Whitehead flights, has conducted collaborative and independent original research for the past 30 years using primary sources. As such, I strongly urge the signatories, in a spirit of outreach, especially for those interested in the topic of “first flight credit’, to buy and carefully study a copy of “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight” by Susan O’Dwyer Brinchman (May, 2015). The book is available at and, to learn far more about the actual documented Whitehead history and flight evidence, using primary source materials contained within, referenced extensively.  (Susan Brinchman)

  Statement True or False?
1 “Single flawed newspaper article” False. The article was an eyewitness account verified by the same newspaper multiple times, during that year and later years, written by a highly respected, reliable editor who was verified by multiple persons as the eyewitness. The flights of the summer of 1901 were further supported by two additional competing local newspapers, recently unearthed from long silent archives by Susan Brinchman in 2014-2015.
2 “Questionable witness testimony 30+ years later” False. The 18 eyewitnesses for multiple GW powered flights witnessed prior to the Wright experiments of Dec. 1903, were highly respected professionals and community members. There were no denials by either of the two additional named witnesses in the article by the Bridgeport Sunday Herald, for 35 years. Wright witnesses were not interviewed till many decades later, also, and none produced notarized statements or affidavits, unlike most of the Whitehead witnesses.
3 Whitehead claims rejected by local newspapers. False, see #1. Note that the news media DID reject the Wright claims for at least 5 full years. In 2014 and 2015, Susan Brinchman and one of her research volunteers unearthed several never-before-seen local articles supporting the Whitehead powered flights of 1901.
4 Whitehead claims rejected by individuals and virtually all sponsors False. For the successful flights of No sponsors for No. 21 and No. 22, this was funded by Whitehead, no sponsors for the duration. Stanley Beach statement devised by Orville’s friends. See GWFIF book for explanation of sponsors who wanted immediate results. Statements of Orville Wright concerning GW have no validity.
5 “Whitehead left no letters, diaries, notebooks, calculations, or drawings recording his experiments, his thoughts, or the details of his craft.” False. GW left statements, letters, drawings, photographs, and extensive details of his aircrafts and experiments in scientific and trade journals, Bridgeport Sunday Herald, other print media and to the St. Louis Exposition Aerial Committee and German media. His assistants confirm he made calculations and conducted scientific testing. His wife threw the rest in the dump when he died early at the age of 53, not realizing their value. He did not keep a diary.
6 No current image located of Whitehead powered airplane in flight. True. However, this does not mean there were no flight photos in the past – in fact, two reliable news sources reported several GW powered flight photos displayed in public – the Scientific American and the Bridgeport Standard. Artifacts from the past are not always available. The Wright photo does not prove a successful flight occurred, in fact, it is a photo of the liftoff of an unsuccessful flight, according to both Wilbur and Orville, and entered into their court records, now conclusively proven by Brinchman in “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight”.
7 No current photo of Whitehead powered airplane in flight has been found (the recent claimed discovery of a photo of Whitehead’s plane in flight by Mr. John Brown turned out not to be that of a Whitehead airplane). True. This author agrees that the alleged Brown – Whitehead flight photo of 2013 was not a Whitehead airplane. More importantly, however, it has been known by Whitehead researchers in the USA and Germany, since the early 1980’s, that in that same Jan. 1906 exhibition, there was a photo of Whitehead’s powered airplane in flight, reported by none other than aviation editor and later Whitehead associate Stanley Yale Beach, in the Jan. 27, 1906 Scientific American. O’Dwyer, this author, and others working in both countries have been seeking that missing photo for thirty years. The failure to find it does not reflect on Whitehead’s overall flight documentation nor research efforts. Better photographs of the exhibition displays should be located to identify the Whitehead flight photo. Any collections of photographs from that exhibition should be located. The Smithsonian may have answers not yet forthcoming about these photographs as it has long been identified as the most likely recipient of some or all of the photographs in that collection.


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