Wrights’ N.C. flight fends off new claim

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Those of us of a certain age might recall a junior high North Carolina history text with a chapter devoted to the Wright Brothers’ historic flight at Kitty Hawk, an event that transpired 110 years ago this week.

Much has changed since our school days. For instance, we don’t even have junior highs any more. But the Wright Brothers’ pioneering feat remains a giant milestone in the technological advancement of North Carolina, the United States and all of humankind. All of our transcontinental air travel and even our ventures beyond the Earth’s atmosphere can be traced back to that 120-foot flight on the windy dunes of the Outer Banks on Dec. 17, 1903.

Or can it?

North Carolina has taken on a good-natured challenge before over its claim to be “First in Flight.” The state of Ohio proudly claims the Wrights as native sons of Dayton. State leaders there note that almost all of the heavy lifting in the science and aerodynamic studies that made the North Carolina flight possible took place in and around the Wrights’ bicycle shop. Kitty Hawk simply provided the best setting for the attempt.

But as Ohio and North Carolina tussle over the true claim to fame, few imagined a new bone of contention from the unlikely state of Connecticut.

Lawmakers there passed a resolution earlier this year boasting that a German immigrant named Gustav Whitehead successfully flew an “aeroplane” on Aug. 14, 1901 in Bridgeport. A photo supposedly backs up the latecomers’ claim.

But an aviation historian says the picture actually shows a glider in California in 1905 – two years after the Wright Brothers made history with their powered flight. In that light, Connecticut’s late-hour claim doesn’t even seem credible.

All of which makes some of us of a certain age a little more self-assured about the text we read back in junior high school. It’s a little late to try to rewrite history.