Barry Saunders

Let Ohio and Connecticut fight – we know we’re first in flight

It’s kind of cute watching legislators in Ohio and Connecticut fighting over which state has the legitimate claim as the birthplace of aviation. Ohio’s claim centers on the fact that Orville Wright was born there and his brother Wilbur and he operated a bicycle shop there.

OK, they tinkered with their flying machine a bit there, too.

Connecticut’s more specious space-corraling claim hinges on the contention that Gustave Whitehead flew a heavier-than-air plane and controlled it in 1901, two years before the Wrights.

In response to a 2013 Connecticut law honoring Whitehead, the Ohio House this week approved a resolution disputing Connecticut’s claim that Whitehead flew first.

What’s cute about this whole contretemps is that we know who is first in flight: North Carolina. Thousands of inmates can’t be wrong – can they? – since they have been putting “First in Flight” on license plates for decades.

As unfriendly and unwelcoming as airlines are these days, with sardined flights, horrible food, obscenely overpaid executives and price-gouging – did you ever think you’d see the day you’d have to pay to carry luggage onto a plane or for a pillow? – one wonders why anyone would want credit for birthing that dysfunctional but usurious profitable industry.

The reason, of course, is moolah. By claiming it’s the birthplace of aviation, Connecticut, understandably, wants a piece of that aviation tourism cheddar we’re splitting with Ohio.

‘They’re just jealous’

I asked Sara, a secretary at the Kitty Hawk Chamber of Commerce if she was aware that yet another state is trying to get a slice.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard about their claim,” she said dismissively of Connecticut. “They’re just jealous. Would you rather be here or there?”

Efforts to reach representatives of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau were unsuccessful, although I must admit it was after 3 p.m. on a Friday when I called, and I pictured everyone leaving the office early to loll on the beach in flowerdy Hawaiian shirts and sip pina coladas. That’s what I’d have been doing.

We in North Carolina can sit on the sidelines, sip and smile as those others states fight over a crown that fits our state’s head.

Whitehead’s claims are hard to authenticate, and some have been dismissed. Even an article on www.Connecticuthistory.org expressed skepticism. “If Whitehead is to be believed,” it said, “his later test flights were even more impressive. He claimed to have flown a second machine for more than seven miles out over Long Island Sound, circling and landing gently in its waters.”

What? He didn’t claim to have shown an inflight movie?

There was no movie. There wasn’t even a camera – as there was at Kill Devil Hills – to verify for posterity Whitehead’s so-called flight. As the attorney for the Wrights said – or would’ve said if he’d have ever heard of Johnnie Cochran – in shooting down Whitehead’s claim, “If there is no movie, your claim ain’t groovy.”

Astronauts and homebrew

A Cincinnati Enquirer story from 2013 applauded Congress for identifying Ohio as aviation’s birthplace because Orville and Wilbur lived there. The paper then tried to buttress its claim by noting that more astronauts hail from Ohio than any other state.

Huh? If traveling to outer space is what they’re basing their claim on, I could point to the time John, Tony, Vap and I found the creek in which Mr. Charlie used to hide his homebrew. We were no astronauts, but dadgummit, we thought we were after finishing a jug of that stuff.

After the Senate concurred that Ohio was the birthplace, the Enquirer wrote, “Daytonians have known that for nearly a century, but North Carolinians have been making the claim that powered flight was born on an Outer Banks hill called Kitty Hawk.”

A hill called Kitty Hawk?

Why, without what the paper condescendingly referred to as a “hill called Kitty Hawk,” it’s doubtful the boys would’ve ever gotten their contraption aloft in the flat Midwest.

Wilbur: I say, old bean. How are we ever going to get this thing up in the air?

Orville: Good question, Willie. Hmm. What say we climb to the top of Kettering Tower and leap off?

Wilbur: Splendid. Only problem is, that skyscraper won’t be built for 67 years.

Orville: Crikey. We can’t wait that long. By that time, every Tom, Dick and Gustave will be trying to claim they built the first one.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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