Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Gustave Whitehead, pioneer of powered flight?

Wired reports: [edited]

That few people outside of aviation buffs have ever heard of Whitehead (originally "Weisskopf" before he immigrated to America from Germany) can be attributed to several factors, including, his defenders say, the outright refusal of the Smithsonian Institution to even consider the possibility that anyone beat the Wright Brothers into the air.

Nevertheless, that's exactly what Whitehead appears to have done. Although there is an affidavit supporting Whitehead's claim to making a bona fide flight as early as April 1899 (filed by an assistant who said he was scalded by steam from the aircraft's motor), his August ascent was the first one clearly documented and witnessed by people not associated with the project.

The aircraft used for the Aug. 14 flight was named Number 21, since Whitehead rather unromantically christened his experimental craft in numerical order. Number 21 was built with bamboo ribbing and covered in silk. (Number 22, which would fly the following January, substituted steel tubing for bamboo.)

Four flights were reportedly made that day, the first coming before daybreak. Three others followed in the afternoon, including a mile-and-a-half journey where Whitehead reached an altitude of 200 feet. In contrast, Orville Wright's historic "first" flight on Dec. 17, 1903 lasted a mere 12 seconds while traveling 120 feet.

No comments: