Shame on Connecticut for declaring war on North Carolina's 'First in Flight' motto

October 24, 2013 

Connecticut, suburb of New York, is famous for having the Yale Whiffenpoofs, being the insurance capital of the United States and having a lot of prep schools that try to get non-North Carolinians into UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke.

No wonder some of its lawmakers are trying to legislate more fame for this teeny-tiny excuse for a state. Toward that end, they’ve put through a law that credits a Bavarian immigrant named Gustave Whitehead with being the first person to fly a heavier-than-air craft, saying he did it in 1901 near Bridgeport, Conn., and again in 1902 over Long Island Sound.

The “proof,” and we use that term with reckless abandon, is Whitehead’s claim, which seems undocumented, and the contention of an Australian researcher named John Brown that he has photographic proof of the 1901 flight, “proof” being a blown-up, grainy photograph of what Brown says is the flight. The problem is, according to a report from The News & Observer’s Bruce Siceloff, the photograph isn’t very good.

True to their nature, Orville and Wilbur Wright gave Whitehead credit for his work on airplane engines -- after their Dec. 17, 1903, flight at Kitty Hawk. But the brothers, from Dayton, Ohio, have clear photographic evidence of their flight, including a picture that is one of the most famous in history.

The Whitehead evidence, in other words, is sketchy at best and speaks of a ridiculous attempt on the part of Connecticut legislators to pull something with a little fast-and-loose lawmaking. (Thank goodness we don’t have that problem here.)

Now, ordinarily at this point, we would offer to meet Connecticut out back and settle this with bare fists, whittlin’ knives or dueling 2x4s, but we’re more civilized than a state so small it probably should be annexed by New York anyway.

And the Tar Heel state on Thursday joined forces with Ohio to dismiss the scurrilous Connecticut maneuver. That’s something, because North Carolina and Ohio, home of the Wrights, have fussed some over the years about which state was really the birthplace of aviation. Legislators from both states got together to say, “Boo, Connecticut,” or something like that.

But if Connecticut would like a little highfalutin’ evidence, we hereby present (or rather, Siceloff presented) a fellow named Tom Crouch, senior aeronautics curator for the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. Crouch has read all the claims about the first flight for many years; he even acknowledges some tension between the Smithsonian and others who claimed to be the first to fly and a deal with the Wrights to get the one and only Wright flyer.

But the fellow is the world’s acknowledged authority on this history, and he says the Wrights were the first to fly, period.

And we hate to pile on there, Connecticut, but the Wrights have been acknowledged as first in flight now for over a century. More than 100 years! Wouldn’t the Whiffenpoof State say that if absolute proof that the Wrights were not the first to fly really existed, it would have come out long before now?

The Wright brothers were first in flight, and we’ll share the honor with Ohio as being their home and the place where they worked on and perfected their plane. Their place in history has long been recognized, and in fact when the historic marker was dedicated to their flight in 1928, Orville Wright was joined by none other than Amelia Earhart, who apparently also agreed that the Wrights were first.

Back to the drawing board, Connecticut. Lay claim to the Old North Church. Or put out a license plate that says, “First in term life insurance,” or something like that. But flight? Forget it.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service