State senator proposes Gustave Whitehead Day


Bill Cummings



HARTFORD -- A Stratford lawmaker wants to one-up Ohio and designate Aug. 14 as Gustave Whitehead Day in Connecticut in honor of his historic flight near Bridgeport.
State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, introduced a bill to the General Assembly establishing Gustave Whitehead, First in Flight, Day to commemorate the disputed belief that Whitehead -- not the Wright Brothers -- first flew an airplane.
The Connecticut effort comes as an Ohio lawmaker is reintroducing a bill recognizing Orville and Wilbur Wright as the first to fly and denouncing the Whitehead claim. The Wright brothers were born in Ohio.
"Facing this opposition, Connecticut must stand strongly behind the history we know to be true," Kelly said.
"Senate Bill 772 will send a clear message: Connecticut was the birthplace of powered flight. Celebrating the exact historic day that changed history, we can ensure future generations never forget," he said.
Kelly is also proposing legislation to designate Whitehead's "Number 21" aircraft as the state pioneering aircraft.
Whitehead's 1901 Bridgeport flight -- some two years before the Wright Brothers took off in Kitty Hawk, N.C. -- was confirmed in 2013 as the first ever in the annual aviation encyclopedia "Jane's All the World's Aircraft."
Whitehead flew longer than the Wright Brothers, and even passed over a portion of Long Island Sound, according to historical records.
"I have nothing against Ohio, I'm even a Cleveland Browns fan," Kelly said. "But Ohio is wrong about this."
Don't tell that to anyone in Ohio
Ohio State Rep. Rick Perales is proposing legislation declaring the Wright Brothers the first to fly and denouncing the Whitehead claim.
"It's wrong for one state to distort history," Perales recently told the Dayton Daily News.
Ohio touts itself as the "birthplace of aviation" and annually generates millions of dollars in tourism and economic development through historic sites tied to the Wright Brothers.
"We need to refute (Whitehead's recognition), and there's no reason out there that anyone should challenge the Wright brothers as first in flight," Perales told the Dayton newspaper.
A bill sponsored by Perales passed an Ohio legislative committee in December, but failed to advance as the session closed. Perales is reintroducing it this year.
Kelly said he's pushing for a Whitehead Day because "Gustave Whitehead is an important part of Bridgeport history, Connecticut history and our nation's history."
The Connecticut Legislature has already passed an act honoring the first powered flight by Whitehead and recognizing Connecticut as first in flight.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2013 signed a law proclaiming the "The Ballroom Polka" as the official state polka. The law also allowed the governor to set aside a day every year "... to honor the first powered flight by Gustave," but so far a Whitehead Day has not been established.
Meanwhile, the Smithsonian refuses to declare Whitehead as the first person to fly, allegedly because of a very old deal. Hearst Connecticut Media previously reported the Smithsonian obtained the Wright Brothers' original plane, which is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, from the Wright family in exchange for never acknowledging someone else as first in flight.