Who is Gustave Whitehead?

Gustave Whitehead is the true inventor of the airplane.

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 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.

Whitehead standing beside his successful airplane in 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. 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 in 2014.

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.

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.

Please learn more at About Gustave Whitehead here.

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