Connecticut Erasing Wright Brothers From History

A full-size reproduction of the Wright brothers’ 1902 glider rests in the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Kevin Fleming/Corbis

Are they righting a wrong or wronging the Wrights?

Forget fossil fuel, this plane is driven by energy from the sun!

The Connecticut Senate passed a bill Tuesday evening that would delete the Wright brothers from history, explicitly stripping recognition for the first powered flight from Orville and Wilbur and assigning it to someone else.

“The Governor shall proclaim a date certain in each year as Powered Flight Day to honor the first powered flight by [the Wright brothers] Gustave Whitehead and to commemorate the Connecticut aviation and aerospace industry,” reads House Bill No. 6671, which now sits on the Governor’s desk awaiting passage into law.

"There’s no question that the Wright brothers retain their place in aviation history," Republican state Sen. Mike McLachlan told "And rightfully so. They just weren't first."

The Governor is likely to sign the bill as early as next week, McLachlan said.

In March, aviation historian John Brown unveiled what he calls photographic proof that Whitehead flew over Connecticut in 1901, “two years, four months, and three days before the Wright brothers.”

"At least in Connecticut, aviation history now appears to have been rewritten,” Brown told Wednesday. “I have no information about whether school books will be reprinted in time for the start of Fall classes.”

The Wright brothers soared into history books on Dec. 17, 1903, following their historic, 852-foot, 59-second flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. -- an achievement for which the duo are widely described as being “first in flight.” But historians have long known that others were working on a variety of flying machines, including a fellow U.S. resident, German immigrant Gustave Whitehead (born Weisskopf).

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Whitehead flew early in the morning of Aug. 14, 1901, Brown said. His winged, bird-like plane was called No. 21, or "The Condor"; with wooden wheels and canvas wings stretched taut across bat-like wooden arms, it rose over the darkened streets of Bridgeport, Conn., and covered an estimated 1.5 miles at a height of 50 feet, he said.

Since Brown’s March revelation, controversy has swirled around his claims.

Historians with the Smithsonian Museum in particular -- curators of the Wright Brother’s plane -- continue to express doubts about Brown’s claims.

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