1988 - Did Whitehead Fly?

Air Enthusiast - #35, January 1988

In the early morning hours of 14 August 1901, near Bridgeport, Connecticut, a small graceful monoplane took to the air with its inventor and builder, Gustave Whitehead at the controls,carrying him for half a mile before landing undamaged. Two years, four months end three days before the Wright brothers' success at Kitty Hawk, a German immigrant mechanic had, it is claimed, achieved powered, controlled flight. He was reviled, pronounced a fraud, and then ignored. Years after his death, just as the hatred and prejudice promoted by war began to recede slowlyand an opportunity for recognition became possible, Whitehead and his accomplishments fell victim to an agreement between the Wright estate and the Smithsonian Institution that finally blocked any official, objective consideration of the evidence amassed in the inventor's favour. That evidence is here presented by G K Weissenborn.

Born on I January 1874 in Leutershausen near Ansbach, Bavaria, Gustav Albin Weisskopf was the second child of Babetta nee Wittmann and Karl Weisskopf, a railroad foreman As a boy, Gustav's experimentation with tissue paper parachutes and his dreams of aviation prompted his schoolmates to dub him "The Flyer". Like most early aviation pioneers, he became interested in observing birds in flight and with the aid of a friend began to trap them in the park, tying strings to the bird's' legs so that they could be observed in tethered flight The police eventually discovered this "Tierqualerei" and put an end to the experiments.

Gustave was more than a dreamer, things mechanical always interested him and he would become an outstanding engine designer. His father did not have the heart to punish him when one Sunday he discovered little Gustave splashing about in his best shoes tinkering with a series of waterwheels he had placed in a stream.

His happy childhood and tranquil home life were abruptly brought to an end when he was orphaned before the age of 13. After a brief apprenticeship to a bookbinder and then to a machining metal and locksmith at the "Schulusselwerke" in Augsburg, he travelled to Hamburg, where he was taken aboard a ship as a cabin boy. Gustav settled briefly in Brazil, where he helped a German family clear land and plant crops. Leaving Brazil again, he hired on as a sailor on board merchant sailing ships, and for the next four years hauled lumber to foreign ports. Throughout these years, his passion for flying remained undiminished, and at 19 or 20 years of age, he returned to Germany after having heard that a man there was actually getting into the air in a craft of his own construction. He stayed and studied with the famous Otto Lilienthal for approximately two weeks, and many of Gustav's later designs show the influence of Lilienthal's ideas.

Gustav Weisskopf returned to sea, providing him with an opportunity to study sea and land birds worldwide. After being shipwrecked, he landed in the United States in 1894 and chose to make it his home, never to leave. 1897 records found him testing gliders in Boston. J B Millet, a publisher, acted on behalf of the Boston Aeronautical Society in employing him to build and fly a glider. Millet also hired a mechanic, Albert B C Horn, to help with its construction. Eventually several gliders were built, one patterned after a design of Lilienthal's, managing to get off the ground for short distances. "A lighter person would have done better as his [Weisskopf s} weight must have been nearly 200 lb," wrote Horn. But he was guessing; actually Weisskopf's weight was 180 lb (82 kg).

Newspaper clippings show that he was testing kites in 1897 in New York, where he was employed by the Horsman Company, a firm selling toys and sporting goods. In New York, he met his future wife, Louise Tuba, an Hungarian immigrant, and followed her to Buffalo where they were married on 24 November 1897 On the marriage license, he listed his occupation as "aeronaut".

For the next two years, the family's movements included Baltimore, where newspaper records show him building and testing two gliders, but there can be little doubt that Weisskopf was experimenting not only with aircraft designs but also with engines in this period. When interviewed in 1934, his wife stated that he continued his aeroplane construction both before and after they were married.

By 1899, he had found employment in a Pittsburgh coal mine; there he met Louis Darvarich, a blacksmith whom he befriended and who helped him work on his aircraft. By affidavit dated 19 July 1934, Darvarich attested to a remarkable event in aviation history: "Approximately April or May 1899, I was present and flew with Mr. Whitehead on the occasion when he succeeded in flying his machine propelled by a steam motor, on a flight of approximately a half mile distance at a height of about 20 to 25 feet from the ground. This flight occurred in Pittsburgh and the type machine used by Mr. Whitehead was a monoplane. We were unable to rise high enough to avoid a three-storey building in our path, and when the machine fell I was scalded severely by tile steam, for I had been firing the boiler. I was obliged to spend several weeks in the hospital, and I recall the incident of the flight very clearly. Mr. Whitehead was not injured, as he had been in the front part of the machine steering it."

This demonstration has not, however, been claimed as the first powered flight, for several reasons. No known effort was made on Weisskopf's part to record the event and no measurements such as speed, altitude or distance flown appear to have been taken. Second, it does not appear to have been a fully controlled flight, and the aircracft did not land undamaged. Finally, we have only Darvarich as eye witness. A newspaper account of the incident has not been located, and the hospital records of the period are no longer in existence to show that Darvarich was admitted.
Several people, however, did recall hearing of the crash, and fireman Martin Devane was called to the scene of the accident: ". . . I believe I arrived immediately after it crashed into a brick building, a newly constructed apartment house which I believe was on the O'Neale Estate. I recall someone was hurt and taken to a hospital, but do not recall what one. I am able to identify the inventor as Gustave Whitehead from the picture of this man showed me by Miss Stella Randolph."

Leaving Pittsburgh in 1900, Weisskopf moved to Bridgeport, and in 1905 to Fairfield, Connecticut, where he resided until his death. The basement of the Bridgeport flat he rented was put at his disposal, and it was here, in the summer of 1901 that he began to construct aircraft and engines at night, after the day's work had been completed. Not long after, a man named Miller offered financial assistance, and with the $300 given him, Weisskopf built a small workshop behind the house.

He often recruited boys from the neighborhood to help him; though they received no pay, they learned a great deal from their work and were later able to put the knowledge gained in Weisskopf's shop to good use in their jobs. Some of them, including Junius Harworth, Lovis Lazay and Bert and Andy Papp, witnessed his earliest flights and were among his first apprentices. Harworth recalled that the first task the inventor set himself after completion of his shop was the repair and modification of a steam engine that he had brought from Pittsburgh and which had been damaged in an early trial flight. Miss Randolph has speculated that this engine could have belonged to the aircraft in which Darvarich was injured. At any rate, Harworth states that, with repairs completed, the engine ran perfectly, demonstrating that Weisskopf built functional engines at an early date.
His reputation as a machinist grew quickly and soon attracted a young immigrant, Anton Pruckner, who had just completed four years of intensive shop training in Hungary and who was to become one of Weisskopf's most valued assistants.

The year 1901 would prove one of Weisskopf's busiest and most significant, for the 14 August flight was preceded by many shorter "hops" which strongly indicated progress and spurred the inventor to greater efforts. The aeroplane he was using had folding wings, so that it could be pushed through the streets to locations where it could be tested in safety. An elegant bat-winged monoplane with a 36-ft (10,97-m) span, this '"No. 21" was flown by Weisskopf in the summer of 1901 from Howard Avenue East to Wordin Avenue, along the edge of property belonging to the Bridgeport Gas Company. Upon landing' recalled Harworth, the machine was turned around and another hop was made back to Howard Avenue.
It was also around that time that Cecil A Steeves, a 16-year-old schoolboy, came upon Weisskopf testing his aircraft on the Gilman Estate. Three men with ropes began pulling the machine which, within 200 ft (61 m), became airborne, rising high enough to clear telephone and trolley lines before sailing across the road to land undamaged in an old circus lot. Major O'Dwyer, having been shown the site by Mr. Steeves, took measurements which disclosed the distance traveled by the aircraft to be nearly 1000 ft (305 m).

Alexander Gluck Thomas Schwiekert and Joe Ratzenberger were schoolboys at the time; Gluck by affidavit dated 19 July 1934, recalled: "Approximately 1901 or 1902, . . . I was present on one occasion when Mr. Whitehead succeeded in flying his machine, propelled by motor, on a flight of some distance, at a height of four or five feet from the ground. The machine used by Mr Whitehead was a monoplane with folding wings. I recall its having been pushed from the back yard of the residence where the Whitehead family lived, 241 Pine Street, Bridgeport, Connecticut, which was opposite my residence at the time (228 Pine Street). The plane was set in motion in the street in front of the house, and when it flew was propelled by an engine."

Schweikert and Ratzenberger remembered vividly a flight made in the summer of 1901 on a lot on Cherry Street, during which Weisskopf's aircraft rose high enough to lift a group of boys who had been clinging to its fuselage, off their feet. Two of the most impressive witnesses to early 1901 flights, neither of whom had ever met the other, were Frank Layne and Elizabeth Koteles. Both were in their early twenties when the events in question took place, and both were unimpressed with what they saw, ignorant of the flights' significance. When requested for an interview in 1968, Mr Layne, then 92, replied: "I know nothing about the technical matters of airplanes. I do not understand why you would want to interview me. I think you are wasting much of your valuable time. Look, I never knew Mr Whitehead personally or anything about his aircraft. All I did was watch him fly."

Mr Layne was certain of the date, for he associated it with his discharge from the Navy after service in Cuba, following the sinking of the battleship Maine. He had gone to Bridgeport to visit his friends, with whom he went to see Weisskopf fly at Fairfield Beach; the longest flight he witnessed covered "about a quarter of a mile". Other flights were made that day, "some longer and some shorter".

Equally non-plussed by the researchers' interest was Mrs Elizabeth Koteles. Major O'Dwyer, who interviewed her in 1974, wrote: "The 94-year-old Mrs Koteles was mentally alert and, having been a young married woman (age 22; old enough to understand and retain what she saw) who lived next door to Whitehead on Pine Street, she was well aware of him and his work. She and her husband walked one evening to the place where Whitehead was testing his airplane but she did notbelieve she had seen a flight 'No. He didn't fly,' she said 'He only went a little way and came down.'"This delightfully honest and sincere old lady still puzzled at our interst in a non-flight answered numerous questions thoughtfully taking care to consider before deciding upon making a statement about the height and distance flown. Making comparisons with fixed objects ... she provided information about the flight which indicated it had covered a distance of 120-200 ft. [36,5-61 m] at a height of approximately 5 ft [1.5 m]. She could recal and imitate the sound of the engine, which indicated it had been a steam one; details she contributed made it probable No 21 was the airplane she had seen. The year, she recalled was 1901.

However important these early trials may have been none was apparently reported on until the Bridgeport Herald printed a story on 18 August 1 90 l, outlining a flight made for "fully half a mile,' on 14 August Present at the Fairfield location, according to the story were: Richard Howell, the paper's editor; two of Weisskopf's assistants, James Dickie and Andrew Celli and the inventor. After a trial run with ballast instead of a pilot Weisskopf took over, having removed the weights. Shortly after the propellers were engaged (Howell's language here is imprecise and he speaks of starting "the wings") Dickie and Celli Gould no longer hold the machine on the ground. On Weisskopf's command they let go and '-'the newspaperman and the two assistants stood still for a moment watching the air ship in amazement . . . She was flying now about 50 ft [15 m] above the ground...." The aviator managed to avoid a group of chestnut trees by leaning to one side, thereby banking the monoplane. He shut off the engine and landed softly. The New York Herald and the Boston Transcript printed the story on 19 August 1901. It was also reported in the Weiner Luftschiffer-Zeitung in Vienna!Weisskopf's detractors, soon at work, found many a sympathetic ear, for most people believed then that powered controlled flight was impossible. No less a personage than Orville Wright collected most anti-Weisskopf arguments and sentiments into one short article in the August 1945 edition of US Air Services. These charges are worth examining in detail, for they are, for the most part, the ones relied on by sceptics today in refusing to admit the possibility of powered flight before the Wright brothers.

The article states that, first, news of such a revolutionary event would not have been withheld for days, only to be printed in the Sunday edition of the paper. Second, James Dickie denied both that he was present that morning and that he knew Andrew Celli, the other assistant named. Third John Dvorak, a Chicago businessman who financed the building of a motor by Weisskopf, deposed in 1936 that Weisskopf did not have the mechanical skill to build a working motor, and that he was given to gross exaggeration. Finally, Stanley Y Beach, a financial backer after 1905, said he was never told that he had flown.

There was in fact no delay in printing the story, for the; Bridgeport Herald was solely a Sunday newspaper; it should be noted that the New York Herald and the Transcript picked up the news of the event the next day, as did other wire service papers.

At the heart of the Wrights' assertion is the premise that public interest in aviation was so intense that any story of a successful flight would have been devoured by the press immediately. This was not so; the Wrights themselves were faced with a "continued lack of serious attention by the press"' and when bad weather delayed their first flights, the reporters invited to the scene as witnesses departed, convinced it was all a waste of time. In 1906, after flying for three years, the Wrights offered their machine to the US Army, "convinced that it had possibilities for military reconnaissance. They were told that the authorities would not take action 'until a machine is produced which by actual operation is shown to be able to produce horizontal flight and to carry an operator.'!" This sceptical attitude by the press, the public and the authorities contributed significantIy to keep Weisskopf in obscurity.

In James Dickie's affidavit of 2 April 1937, he states that, to the best of his knowledge and belief, the aircraft shown him "in pictures No 32 and 42" never flew, that he does not know Andrew Celli, and that he was not present on the morning of 14 August 1901. Although it initially appears very damaging to Weisskopf's claims, this document is riddled with errors and proven distortions.

The dimensions of the aircraft described by Dickie have nothing at all in common with those of machine No 21, which Weisskopf tested on l4 August; therefore, Dickie cannot have been acquainted with that aeroplane. When Major O'Dwyer spoke with him about the affidavit, "(He) admitted that the engine described in it was one stationed upon the ground, having heavy boilers transmitting steam through a hose to the pipe, causing it to revolve for the testing of tethered aircraft . . . The engine was not intended for use in aircraft, and never was. In light of Dickie's later admissions, his affidavit of earlier date has little value and it would not have been published had all the facts been known earlier."

The identity of"Cellie" remained a mystery, until, in the 1960s Major O'Dwyer discovered that Weisskopf's neighbour on Tunxis Hill a machinist who helped build his aircraft and who often told of having seen him fly, was named Anthony "Suelli". Zulli was a Swiss who tried to spell his name phonetically in English, varying Suelly to SuelIi, then Sully. Howell's error in mix-spelling the name is understandable if he only heard it pronounced. Unfortunately, the researchers made this discovery too late, for Suelly died before he could be interviewed.

Thus it appears that Howell's account remains unsubstantiated, but such is not the case, for two others have sworn they were present on that day. By affidavit dated 21 August 1934, Junius Harworth swore that, "On August 14th, 1901, I was present and assisted on the occasion when Mr Whitehead succeeded in flying his machine, propelled by a motor, to a height of 200 ft [61 m] off the ground or sea beach at Lordship Manor, Connecticut. The distance flown was approximately one mile and a half [2.4 km] and lasted to the best of my knowledge for four minutes."

Anton Pruckner, with whom Weisskopf made many flights made oath as follows: "I did witness and was present at the time of the 14 August 1901 flight. The flight was about a halfmile [0,8 km] in distance overaIl and about 50 ft [15 m] or so in the air. The plane circled a little to one side and landed easily with no damage to it or the engine or the occupant who was Gustave Whitehead."'

It was Weisskop's habit, when testing aircraft, to make more than one flight a day unless, of course the machine was damaged beyond airworthiness. The discrepancies in the affidavits of Pruckner and Harworth arise from the fact that they describe two different flights of the four made that day. This accounts for their absence from Howell's article.

John Dvorak's criticisms, that Weisskopf was too unskilled to build a working engine, and that he was given to gross exaggeration, are simply nonsensical. Junius Harworth responded: "Dvorak is absolutely correct in making affidavit to the effect that Whitehead could not build a motor to satisfy Dvorak. This was because Dvorak had his own drawings, his own ideas, which did not agree with Whitehead's ... Why could not Dvorak get any other person to manufacture his motor at that time? It was because his drawings and ideas were not correct. Whitehead knew this, and that is why the breach occured ... He (Dvorak) lacked mechanical skill to build motors. If he lacked skill, how could he judge and claim that Whitehead did not have this skill, when already Whitehead did have a shop with equipment in it, and was building motors?"*

In fact, Weisskopf's ability and mechanical skill could have made hime a wealthy man at a time when there was an ever increasing demand for lightweight engines, but he was far more interested in flying. Even so, word of his talent as a machinist spread rapidly. His daughter, Rose, remembers bringing home so many letters with orders and advance payments on engines that she could scarcely carry them. She stated that one day, her father returned 50 orders, for he built only as many engines for sale as he felt would provide him with funds to advance his own work upon airplanes."

Weisskopf avidly experimented to find a powerful but lightweight propulsion unit and started with steam, but soon tried other methods: "When interviewed on 4 January 1936, Louis Lazay told the writer that Whitehead had built the first gasoline motor used in an airplane in this country. Darvarich recalled a revolving hexagon-type motor built by Whitehead. Harworth reported under the date of 28 August 1935, that Whitehead had built the Snaideki V8 engine which had 16 cylinders, eight on a side."

Even Stanley Beach stated that Weisskopf "deserves a place in early aviation, due to his having gone ahead and built extremely light engines and aeroplanes. The five-cylinder kerosene one, with which he claims to have flown over Long Island Sound-on 17 January 1902 was, I believe, the first aviation Diesel."

Charles R Wittemann is one of the more respected names in American aviation history; he was the first commercial builder of aeroplanes in the US; he built some of the first Air Mail aircraft for the Post Office Department; he designed special stunt aircraft for many famous flyers, and in World War I, President Wilson appointed him to a committee to examine and report on the aircraft industry at the time. Wittemann once purchased two Weisskopf engines for his aeroplanes and reports that they functioned well. "When asked of his opinion of Whitehead and his ability, Mr Wittemann replied without hesitation, "I'd say he was a genius. All around." "You wouldn't say he was just a nut?" he was asked. "Oh no! By no means. He knew what he was doing."

Clearly, Weisskopf was not the vain, boastful dreamer that Dvorak alleged in 1936! Depite his best efforts though, the inventor was almost always short of money. After Miller, a man named Linde provided financial assistance probably until the end of 1902. In 1905 Stanley Beach son of the editor of Scientific American took an interest in Weisskopf's work, and along with his father assisted Weisskopf financially for several years. In 1939, Beach drew up a statement, neither sworn nor signed, about his relationship with Weisskopf. Largely critical, the typed version consisted of 6-7 pp and has been relied upon heavily by the aviator's detractors, as Beach knew Weisskopf for years, though falsely claiming 1903, instead of 1905, as the year of their acquaintance.

The two men did not get along, and Weisskopf's assistants have said he would not have worked for Beach but for his painful lack of friends Beach did not permit him to pursue his own ideas but forced his own unsuccessful designs on him, from time to time. In statements made in response to Stella Randolph's 1937 book, "Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead"', Beach denied that Weisskopf had ever flown successfully because, if he had, he (Beach), as aeronautics editor of his father's magazine, would have known about it. In her second book, "The Story of Gustave Whitehead", Miss Randolph wrote: "It is indeed strange that Beach did not know of the August 14, 1901 flights when they occurred whether or not he was promoting Whitehead's efforts at that date In his capacity as Aeronautics Editor for the 'Scientific American,, and as a resident of Stratford (next door to Bridgeport) he must have discovered that the Bridgeport, New York and Boston papers were either scooping him in his hometown and in his own field, or, publishing a fraudulent claim. In either case the 'Scientific American's' aeronautics section was strangely silent. Was Beach trying to 'save face' thirty-odd years later with his statements?"
Strangely enough, Beach's name does not appear on the masthead or anywhere else in Scientific American, to confirm that he had a position on staff. Beach's 1939 statement has been proved to be the product of more than one hand, for part of the original is typed, part handwritten. In another hand at the top of the first page is written "Please, correct, leave out and add to . . ." and, as mentioned above, the document was never signed. Interestingly enough, the author (whether Beach or not) managed to pay Weisskopf some compliments; his praise of the inventor's engines has already been alluded to, and on the last page of the statement, he wrote: "I know that the airplane patented by him was inherently stable, laterally and longitudinally, and that it would always make a 'pancake' landing instead of a nose dive." It would seem that for Beach to know this, he must have watched more than one landing of Weisskopf's aircraft.
His flight success attracted attention and visitors' among them the Wright brothers. Though no firm date for the visit can be given, it appears that some time after the August flights they did see him. In Anton Pruckner's 30 October l 964 affidavit, he states: "I can also remember very clearly when the Wright brothers visited- Whitehead's shop here in Bridgeport before 1903. I was present and saw them myself. I know this to be true, because they introduced themselves to me at the time. In no way am I confused' as some people have felt' with the Wittemann brothers who came here after 1906. I knew Charles Witteman well. The Wrights left here with a great deal of information . . ."

Both Cecil Steeves and Junius Harworth remember the Wrights; Steeves described them and recalled their telIing Weisskopf that they had received his letter indicating an exchange of correspondence. Though Orville Wright always denied his acquaintance with Weisskopf, the evidence clearly contradicts trim' end though the Wright "Flyer" seems to have nothing in common with Weisskopf's elegant monoplane, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to determine how much "information" was picked up by the brothers Wright, if any.

In the 1 April l 902 edition of The American Inventor (Vol ix, No 1) there appeared a letter from Weisskopf to the editor, describing two flights made by the inventor on 17 January 1902. His words are worth reprinting: "It [machine no 22,resembling no 21 with which the 14 August flight was made] was intended to fly only short distances, but the machine behaved so well that at the first trial it covered nearly two miles [3,2 km] over the water of Long Island Sound, and settled in the water without mishap to either machine or operator. It was then towed back to the starting place. On the second trial it started from the same place and sailed with myself on board across Long Island Sound. The machine kept on steadily in crossingthe wind at a height of about 200 ft [61 m] when it came into my mind to try steering around in a circle. As soon as I turned the rudder and drove one propeller faster than the other, the machine turned a bend and flew north with the wind at a frightful speed, but turned steadily around until I saw the starting place in the distance. I contrived to turn but when near the land again, I slowed up the propellers and sank gently down on an even keel into the water, she readily floated like a boat. My men pulled her out of the water, and as the day was at a close, and the weather changing for the worse, I decided to take her home until Spring. The length of the flight on the first trial was about two miles 93,2 km] and on the second about seven miles [l l km]"Weisskopf's description of his landing brings to mind Stanley Beach's assertion that the machine was "inherently stable, laterally and longitudinally, and that it would always make a 'pancake' landing instead of a nose dive".

Unfortunately, those who might have witnessed these flights were not interviewed. Pruckner was not present on the occasion, though he was told of the events by Weisskopf himself: "Weisskopf was of fine moral character, and never in all the long time I was associated with him or knew him did he ever appear to exaggerate. I have never known him to lie; he was a very truthful man. I believed him when he said he flew, and I still believe he did what he said . . . I saw his aircraft fly on many occasions and I see no need to disbelieve this particular event."

Weisskopf continued to work and to invent for as long as he was able, and his dissatisfaction with his successes contributed to his eventual obscurity. -Upon landing he would often dismantle an entire aeroplane to modify it, trying different wing configurations upon a fuselage in order to improve performance. He experimented with gliders and powered craft, monoplanes, bi- and triplanes, as well as helicopters. Of his successful tests, Weisskopf told Pruckner, "Those flights are no good. They are not long enough. We cannot go anywhere. Before flying means anything, we must go somewhere"

Gradually, he became disheartened, as one by one his discoveries were credited to others who accepted public acclaim for pioneer work in this field. World War I brought with it suspicion, prejudice and hatred of all things German, and Weisskopf, who appears never to have lost his accent, is believed to have felt credit denied him because of his background. On 10 October 1927, at only 53 years of age Weisskopf died, leaving his family the house he had built, some acreage and eight dollars. A few months before his passing, he received with tears of joy the news that Charles Lindbergh had successfully crossed the Atlantic. Weisskopf was buried in a pauper's grave.

His history would end here, but for the reluctance of prominent scholars and institutions to acknowledge his achievements or even to bother themselves with a thorough objective review of material gathered to date. a reluctance which only served to spur Miss Randolph and Major O'Dwyer, his biographers on to greater efforts. Though an extensive history of their dealings with the Smithsonian is beyond the scope of this paper, a brief mention of the Smithsonian's attitude and the reason for its position is made here, for it goes far to explain Weisskopf's position today.

For years after their 7 December 1903 flights in North Carolina, the Wrights were virtually ignored, but after their success in France on 31 December 1908 brought about a growing conviction that the aeroplane could be used in war, they were invited to the White House in 1909. At this time Professor Langley, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, was being hailed by that institution as the "father of flight".

Samuel P Langley, who had for years been conducting successful glider experiments, and his assistant C M Manley had been employed by the government to construct an aircraft that could be used in war. In late 1903, he launched his creation, the "Aerodrome", over water but the aircraft was unsuccessful and fell into the Potomac. Despite this, Langley's position at the Smithsonian was secure, and very much covetted by the Wrights. Orville Wright, embittered by the Institution's attitude, lent the "Flyer" to the London Science Museum for a term of years, thereby bringing external pressure to bear: the aircraft would not be returned to the USA until he and his brother were acknowledged as the "Fathers of Powered Flight". The Smithsonian eventually gave in but Orville nevertheless extended the period of loan to England through World War II then intervened to prevent the safe transfer of the "Flyer" to the US until 1948.

On 23 November of that same year, the executors of Orville Wright's estate entered into a contract with the Smithsonian for the display of the aircraft which dealt with, among other - things, the wording to be used on the accompanying plaque. Paragraph 2 (d) of the Agreement reads: "Neither the Smithsonian Institution or its successors, nor any museum or other agency, bureau or facilities, administered for the United States of America by the Smithsonian Institution or its successors shall publish or permit to be displayed a statement or label in connection with or in respect of any aircraft model or design of earlier date than the Wright Aeroplane of 1903, claiming in effect that such aircraft was capable of carrying a manunder its own power in controlled flight." Failure to observe this condition by the Smithsonian would result in a return of the "Flyer" to the vendors, according to paragraph 4 of the contract.

The implication is clear. By trading its integrity for an aeroplane, the Smithsonian one of the most prestigious public institutions in the world, was condemning Weisskopf to obscurity. He was after all, only a humble German immigrant and not one of America's native sons, regardless of how much he had come to love his adopted home.

Weisskopf has over 30 "firsts" to his name, but because he was generous in sharing his discoveries, unlike the secretive Wrights, he received little credit for his efforts. Stella Randolph records that: "He was Connecticut's first designer, builder and flyer of powered aircraft and aircraft engines. So far as has been established, he was the first in the country to build sufficiently powerful and lightweight gasoline engines for powered flight and to sell them... In this country he was the first to introduce the use of rubber-tired wheels under airplanes for ground transport... Hisuse of folding wings on airplanes is the first known in this country, and he was the first to use silk in making them; he was the first to provide his craft with individually controllable propellers to vary in revolutions per minute... First to build a concrete runway in this country... Most of these things he accomplished prior to 17 December 1903.

Weisskopf's excommunication from the halls of aviation history was an unmerited sentence imposed not by history, but by contract. The evidence amassed in his favour strongly indicates that, beyond reasonable doubt, the first fully controlled, powered flight that was more than a test "hop", witnessed by a member of the press, took place on 14 August 1901 near Bridgeport, Connecticut. For this assertion to be conclusively disproved, the Smithsonian must do much more than pronounce him a hoax while wilfully turning a blind eye to all the affidavits, letters, tape recorded interviews and newspaper clippings which attest to Weisskopf's genius. Though the Wrights finally succeeded in setting their names firmly in-all the books, we should remember that the history written by the victor is only a half truth, after all.

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