Connecticut lawmaker holds fast to 1st-in-flight claim

AP News
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Posted: Apr 30, 2015 2:03 AM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A Connecticut lawmaker says he won't back down on his state's claims that another aviator beat the Wright brothers into flight, despite calls by an Ohio nonprofit group.

Sen. Kevin Kelly, a Stratford Republican, said in a statement this week that he understands the National Aviation Heritage Alliance's perspective, but he believes legislators have an obligation not to dismiss "mounting evidence" that Connecticut's Gustave Whitehead flew first.

"It is a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the Wright brothers' cause," Kelly said, noting that the alliance is based in Dayton, Ohio. "As a Connecticut senator, I stand by Gustave Whitehead as the first person to make a manned, powered, controlled flight. We owe history the courtesy to determine who was first, and rather than just dismiss mounting evidence supporting Whitehead, I would have hoped a more learned approach would have been offered by NAHA. "

The alliance last week called on Connecticut to restore its support for Dayton-born Orville and Wilbur Wright's 1903 flight off Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, as the first by withdrawing a recently passed law honoring Whitehead for the accomplishment. The group has testified in favor of a resolution moving through the Ohio Legislature that repudiates Whitehead's claim.

In making its request, NAHA cited acknowledgement earlier this month by Jane's All the World's Aircraft that a 2013 column that highlighted "vast" new documentary evidence that Whitehead flew two years before the Wrights was merely one man's opinion.

IHS, publisher of the respected reference book, issued its statement as the battle between Connecticut and Ohio heated up.

"In March 2013, IHS Jane's All the World's Aircraft Editor Paul Jackson wrote an article based on recently discovered data recognizing Gustave Whitehead — not the Wright Brothers — as first to make a manned, powered, controlled flight," IHS said. "The article was intended to stimulate discussion about first in flight. The article reflected Mr. Jackson's opinion on the issue and not that of IHS Jane's."

But Tony Sculimbrene, the NAHA executive director, said the publisher's position has evolved.

"IHS Jane's has taken a major step back from the position it held in 2013 when we communicated with senior IHS executives," he said. "At that time, in phone calls, emails and by letter, IHS executives gave no indication that IHS Jane's didn't stand by the columns written by its editor in chief."

Its statement said: "IHS Jane's recognizes and respects that there are differing views on this historical analysis and IHS makes no argument about the success of the Wright Brothers, who hold their rightful place in history as aviation pioneers and heroes." A spokesman for the company declined to comment further.

Jane's offered defenders of the Wright brothers a chance to write a column of their own, but no one took them up on the offer, the statement said.

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Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.