Good morning, I am going to be a little bit controversial here and today’s topic is about the history of Aviation. Were the Wright brothers the first to fly? Or was there another flyer that took to the skies earlier? The run time for this documentary is 52:49.
In 1903, the Wright Brothers made the first motorized flight. Or did they? This documentary talks about the controversy surrounding this claim. Aviation expert, John Brown explores this controversy and puts for the claim that Gustave Whitehead was the one that made the first flight. It is a claim that outrages many. Was Gustave Whitehead a genius or a person discredited by his rivals? Who kick-started the age of aviation?
The flight was one of humanity’s greatest achievements and it is celebrated at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. The museum has the Wright Brother’s plane from 1903. What is the real story behind the first flight? In 2011, an Australian aviation expert began exploring that first flight. His name is John Brown and he was exploring the early history of aviation. During this research, he discovered a photo from 1901 built by a German aviator Gustave Whitehead. The photo was of a motorized plane. When John saw the photo, he felt like everything was in the right place. John Brown set out to find the truth about Gustave Whitehead and his flights. He found records about this flight and Gustave Whitehead from five continents. As he dug deeper, he found controversy along the way.
Who was Gustave Whitehead? There were rumors that he was flying in 1901. The contemporary sources talk about Gustave Whitehead’s plane. In the 1930s, Stella Randolph started exploring the history of aviation. She was pointed to an article in a local paper from 1901. It was about Gustave Whitehead and his flight. She decided to research the story of Gustave Whitehead. She expanded that original article and put together a book. She tracked down the witnesses to these flights. However, these efforts would be in vain. World War II happened and nobody wanted to give the title of the first flight to a German. Stella’s evidence fell on deaf ears and she went to her grave believing that Whitehead was the first to make the mechanical flight.
What happened to Stella’s claim that Whitehead was the first to fly? In 1945, Orville Wright wrote an article quoting someone who knew Whitehead. He called Whitehead a dreamer who did not fly. John Brown would go hunting for the evidence. He starts in Whitehead’s hometown in Germany. Here, he explores the life of Gustave Whitehead before his immigration to the United States. The museum in the city has a replica of the plane Gustave flew. Gustave spent years exploring flight. He started designing gliders. He took many flights with these gliders. His early efforts would inspire other aviation pioneers.
John continues to track down the evidence of these flights. In Bridgeport, Connecticut, Andy Kosch, a physics professor started experimenting with building a replica of Whitehead’s plane. He proved that Whitehead’s design could fly. As word got out about this replica, many others came forward including individuals who had known people that had witnessed Whitehead’s flights. John continues his exploration in the United States where Whitehead found employment at the Boston Aeronautical Society. He constructed gliders and these images were published in the local newspapers.
Eventually, he moved to Pittsburg where he first started experimenting with flying. Stella would track down the first of many witnesses to these flights in Pittsburg. One man was in the plane with Gustave when they flew. The local newspapers wrote about these attempts. To learn more about Gustave Whitehead and his aviation exploits tune into the rest of the episode to find out more.
When I first saw this documentary, I was skeptical about the topic and also wondered if it would be worth sharing in a classroom. However, as the evidence started to be revealed I saw the potential that Whitehead was the first. There were also points in the documentary where I felt like some of the experts were a bit condensing. In the end, this would be a good documentary to show in a history classroom because of how the sources were looked at and examined.
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