Wrong about the Wright Brothers: New Evidence Reveals German Man First in Flight

First Posted: Mar 19, 2013 02:07 PM EDT

Were the Wright brothers really the first to fly? Not so, according to Australian historian John Brown. He claims that instead it was a German immigrant in Connecticut that deserved the honor--not Orville and Wilbur Wright.

So were we really wrong about the Wright brothers? According to Brown, Gustav Whitehead made a sustained powered flight in a heavier-than-air machine on August 14, 1901--that's two years before the Wright brothers. In order to record the flight, Whitehead invited the chief editor of the "Bridgeport Herald" to observe the historic moment. Unfortunately for Whitehead and for history, the visit resulted in a very blurry image that may or may not show the German immigrant in flight.

Brown, though, insists that the picture does show evidence of Whitehead's flight. He recently discovered a century-old image that shows a picture of the picture that depicts the moment. By blowing up the image by 3,500 percent, he revealed something that looks vaguely like a very blurry man in flight.

Yet there are some of those that doubt the evidence. Peter Jakab, associate director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, believes that the photo is too blurry to be conclusive, according to NPR. It's also strange that after this historic moment, Whitehead never again made a successful flight.

"The strongest argument against the Whitehead claims is to be found in the fact that not one of the powered machines that he built after 1902 ever left the ground," said Tom Crouch, curator of aeronautics on the National Air and Space Museum's website. "Are we to assume that he forgot the secret of flight?"

Brown continues to have his own supporters, though. Paul Jackson, editor of "Jane's All the World's Aircraft," accepts that the evidence is enough to support Brown's claims. In addition, he believes that the Smithsonian may be biased when it comes to the Wright brothers.

"They had to agree with Orville Wright that they would never say that anybody else had flown a powered, manned aircraft before they had done," said Jackson in an interview with NPR. He thinks that this was one of the conditions that the Smithsonian agreed to when it purchased the Wright brothers' historic aircraft for only $1.

The controversy will no doubt continue when it comes to who flew first. More evidence will need to be presented before a conclusion can finally be reached. For now, though, it seems that the Wright brothers may be the right choice.

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