North Carolina boasts that it is “first in flight,” but the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport will host its own First in Flight celebration next month amid growing debate that a Connecticut man might have beaten the Wright Brothers to it.
The man behind this debate is Gustave Whitehead, who lived in Bridgeport.
The reason he has been getting national attention is the forward of the aviation publication, “Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft,” in March that mentioned research into Whitehead and his flight of a plane called the “Condor” in August 1901, two years before the Wright Brothers took to the skies over North Carolina.
“In the early hours of 14 August 1901, the Condor propelled itself along the darkened streets of Bridgeport, Connecticut, with Whitehead, his staff and an invited guest in attendance. In the still air of dawn, the Condor's wings were unfolded and it took off from open land at Fairfield, 15 miles from the city, and performed two demonstration sorties. The second was estimated as having covered 1½ miles at a height of 50 feet, during which slight turns in both directions were demonstrated,” the editor, Paul Jackson, wrote in a an article posted on the publication Web site.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has discounted the claims, but in Connecticut, Whitehead is a household name.
He was recognized as the Father of Connecticut Aviation in 1968 and Bridgeport has a memorial to him.
“Jane’s has solidified what we’ve known all along – Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly a powered, manned aircraft before the Wright Brothers, and he did it right here in Bridgeport,” Mayor Bill Finch said in a statement in March.
On August 17, the Discovery Museum and Planetarium in Bridgeport is celebrating the 112th anniversary of Whitehead’s flight.
The event is free and will feature presentations by aviation historian John Brown, who conducted extensive research into Whitehead.
John Ratzenberger, a Bridgeport native and actor made famous for his role as Cliff Clavin in the TV show “Cheers” will be there.
Andy Kosch, who successfully flew a replica of Gustave Whitehead Flyer “No. 21,” will also attend and you will be able to see the plane, weather permitting.
If you go, you can attend planetarium shows, meet with model airplane clubs, view educational demonstrations for children and take a tethered flight of The Discovery Museum’s high altitude balloon.
Guests can explore the new First In Flight exhibit, which includes period photographs, news articles and personal accounts of Whitehead and his 1901 flight on the beaches of Bridgeport.
The Discovery Museum’s more than 100 hands-on, interactive exhibits will be open to the public.
The Discovery Museum and Planetarium is located at 4450 Park Avenue in Bridgeport.
For more, visit DiscoveryMuseum.org or call 203-372-3521.