The question has been asked, has any authoritative body in the United States EVER conducted a full, formal investigation into Gustave Whitehead’s achievements? Did CAHA (Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association), a 501c3 nonprofit that now runs the New England Air Museum (NEAM) ever do so?
A: The answer is a resounding “NO!”
In 1969, CAHA’s board voted to conduct a full and complete investigation, involving a study and gathering of Gustave Whitehead’s history, to determine whether he had flown, and when these flights had occurred. Committees were set up and it was thought that this investigation might take from 1-2 years, or at the most, 5 years. Their president, Harvey Lippincott, initiated the move to do so, writing Whitehead researchers, Ms. Randolph and Major O’Dwyer, about this in August, 1969, outlining a series of steps he felt should be taken, as follows:
a. Development of a chronology.
b. Development by CAHA personnel of comprehensive summaries fully referenced of all of Whitehead’s work, aircraft, engines, etc. which would be a basic reference source for anything concerning Whitehead. These summaries would contain every known fact, attribute, aspect, and even myth about the subject as obtained from the research that has been accomplished.
c. Packaging of the summaries along with photos, artifacts, and documents into units as propellers, airplanes, gliders, engines, etc.
d. Securing willing engineers, technicians, and scientists of experience and competence to take these packages and give them serious engineering and scientific study, prepare reports and exchange each others reports for review and criticism. At least three persons should make independent studies and critiques.
e. Further, have various studies made and reports written by experts in the field …; eye witness reports and testimony of his flights;…an objective historical review of Gustave Whitehead and his times that affected his work and its acceptance.
f. When this is all done then a prestigious national panel of engineers, historians, and the like should be formed to study the results of the experts and their reports from which they should form conclusions and write a final report that states what Whitehead’s capability, contributions, and place in history is.”
“As far as I can ascertain, little has been done to affect these steps and nothing has been completed. The main accomplishments to date have been in teh collection of information, data, photographs, artifacts, etc. Excellent progress has been made in the collective field, but only haphazard work to date in the analysis area.”
In a handwritten letter to Stella Randolph on Nov. 12, 1969, Mr. Lippincott writes,
“I prepared a resolution on a Whitehead Study Committee which was passed by the Board authorizing it. I recruited Wesley Gorduck to head [it]. He is actively forming this committee and will report to you [Stella Randolph] shortly by letter and a personal visit… I have tentative understandings with several engineers and scientists to study various aspects of his work. This will be firmed by the committee.”
Lippincott announced the decision to the membership and asked for volunteers from CAHA. Most members were working full time at paid jobs. The extensive files they’d have to inspect were located in Southeastern Connecticut, in the Fairfield home of Major William J. O’Dwyer, and in Maryland, at the home of Stella Randolph, both primary Whitehead researchers – both a considerable distance from the members’ homes. Only a few members responded, the aforementioned Wesley “Wes” Gorduck and Bob Stepanek. A small study committee was formed. However, at the end of a two year period, with all good intentions but little accomplished, it was determined that, due to the massive collection of materials and the outside responsibilities of its members, including Mr. Lippincott, it would be necessary to extend the period to five years. During the latter part of the five year period, Mr. Lippincott found that his small group of volunteers were unable to participate for various personal reasons, especially concerning their employment. Mr. Lippincott valiantly offered to continue on alone when no other volunteers stepped forward. However, as he soon realized that the 10 hours he spent at work and the four hours he spent on CAHA directorship per day left little time to conduct such a demanding investigation – especially alone. Near the end of the five year period, in 1974, Mr. Lippincott had to explain to the Whitehead researchers that even with best intentions, CAHA would be unable to conduct a Whitehead investigation at that time.
The family of Gustave Whitehead had eagerly anticipated the culmination of the process, as had Whitehead researchers, who were coordinating their efforts with CAHA to interview new Whitehead flight witnesses throughout that period. The relationship between the Whitehead researchers, Whitehead family, and CAHA was very cordial at that time. The Smithsonian was not being receptive to Whitehead’s history and was found to undermine recognition efforts behind the scenes. Smithsonian has never conducted a full investigation, nor has any other authoritative museum or body in the United States, despite frequent attempts to obtain one since the 1930’s.
There is no truth to the (unsubstantiated) claim that CAHA formally investigated Gustave Whitehead in 1968 or at any other time. Despite its desire to do so, and initial efforts to organize some of the Whitehead information for study, ultimately, CAHA did not have the volunteer human resources necessary to carry out the very time-consuming, complex process.
My question is, where are the files that CAHA copied from the O’Dwyer and Randolph collections? Are these available to the public? My questions have gone unanswered at the CAHA’s New England Air Museum, located in Hartford, CT, which has apparently decided, for political reasons, not to have a Whitehead exhibit, nor even to recognize him for any flights, even though the state of CT, its governor and legislature recognize Whitehead as “first in powered flight”. The reasons appear to be pro-Wright / and obviously anti-Connecticut aviation history personnel at the helm – as well as those in charge no doubt wishing to be in Smithsonian’s good graces in order to obtain and keep exhibits. Considering CAHA members worked very hard to locate Whitehead flight witnesses and interview them in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and that its first, long-time president and founder Lippincott personally took part in key interviews, stating he believes Whitehead made short flights before the Wright brothers (that exceeded theirs), this is a shameful state of affairs that cries out for justice.
For more on CAHA’s role in recognizing Whitehead in earlier decades, go to
What role did the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Association (CAHA) play in the recognition of Gustave Whitehead?
Susan O’Dwyer Brinchman
La Mesa, CA