COLUMBUS, Ohio — Testimony began March 24 in favor of an Ohio bill that would repudiate the claim that Gustave Whitehead flew a powered airplane in Connecticut two years before Ohio’s Wright brothers flew in North Carolina.
National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) Executive Director Tony Sculimbrene testified in a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing in favor of House Concurrent Resolution 8 (HCR 8), along with a Wright family descendent and the author of a recent book about the Wright brothers.
Sculimbrene’s testimony focused on a 2013 column by Paul Jackson, editor-in-chief of IHS Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, which endorsed the claim despite its repeated dismissal by top aviation historians.
Sculimbrene cited a Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial which said Jackson denied a request to be interviewed about his column, and he said an IHS executive he spoke with personally refused to say who he believed flew first.
“For such a bold change in history, there seems to be little willingness to defend the change by the people who are responsible for this ‘authoritative source on aviation,’ ” Sculimbrene said.
Amanda Wright Lane, great-grandniece of Wilbur and Orville Wright, said the “iconic photo” of the Wright Flyer’s first flight in 1903, as well as other records, amply document that “Uncle Orv and Uncle Will were the first to fly a powered, heavier than air flying machine, they were the first to build a flying machine of practical utility, they were the first to sell an aeroplane to the U.S. government and other foreign entities, and they were the first to build a factory that launched the aviation industry.” Lane is also a NAHA trustee.
Timothy R. Gaffney, author of the “The Dayton Flight Factory: The Wright Brothers and the Birth of Aviation,” also spoke in favor of the testimony.
Gaffney, who is also NAHA’s communications director and a former trustee, said Ohio has been “modest to a fault” in not promoting its aviation heritage as vigorously as North Carolina, whose “first in flight” motto has reinforced a widespread belief that the Wright brothers invented the airplane in North Carolina, not their hometown of Dayton.
Since State Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, first announced plans to sponsor the bill, “the press has started to notice Ohio and report its stake in the Whitehead issue,” Gaffney said.