Specifically, this question relates to Gustave Whitehead's achievement, credited with first flight by one state and evaluated by a growing number of historians. This question is specific to Gustave Whitehead, and therefore is not a duplicate of previous general questions about the Wrights and anyone who might have flown before them. Gustave Whitehead, German immigrant and Connecticut resident, has been credited with the first successful powered flights of mankind by the State of Connecticut and many of his contemporaries.

According to substantial documentation, Whitehead flew powered aeroplanes successfully in 1901-1904, including predating the Wrights' flights by two years and three months. My book, "Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight" (2015), lists the evidence, showing why he wasn't more widely credited in recent decades. It includes extensive detail about how the Wrights managed to obtain credit, in order to win their lawsuit against Curtiss and gain broader patent rights. Mainstream historians dislike the Whitehead claim and point to what their competitor, Orville Wright, said about it.

Did Whitehead achieve powered flight before the Wrights?

  • The Wright Brothers' stuff is pretty well documented -- if not the activities at Kitty Hawk in Dec 1903 (where there were only a handful of witnesses) then many, many flights over Dayton Ohio the following summer. Someone may have preceded them (depending on your definition of "powered flight") but proving that is a matter of finding sufficient documentation. Dec 27, 2018 at 19:58
  • In examining the proofs that Gustave Whitehead made successful powered flights in 1901-1904, there are 18 recorded eyewitness statements to multiple flights, 11 local contemporary news articles, and 5 contemporary Scientific American articles crediting Whitehead with this achievement. Documentation of the Wright flights of 1903 falls short of this mass of evidence and relies heavily on their own accounts. Dec 27, 2018 at 21:20
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    "An interesting book, "Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight", have been published recently" - you should probably note in the interests of transparency that, according to your profile, you are the author of said book.
    – F1Krazy
    Dec 28, 2018 at 0:03
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    This question is not spam (according to Stack Exchange rules) as it discloses the association of the author and has no links to the product. Please don't flag it as such.
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 4, 2019 at 8:13
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    @DJClayworth So, someone presumably knowledgeable enough on a topic to have written a book on the topic cannot mention that fact? Posting a question only so you can answer it, because you know a lot about it, is exactly what SE is. I don't understand your reasoning for your comment.
    – user11643
    Jan 4, 2019 at 22:27

1 Answer 1


Gustave Whitehead was first in successful powered flight, flying the aeroplane he invented in 1901, predating the Wrights by two years and three months, and on at least several occasions during that year. According to multiple witnesses (1) and numerous local newspaper articles of the era (2), Whitehead made achieved an elevation of 50 feet and flew a distance of up to 1/2 mile, with successful landings. In his day, up until about 1904, Whitehead became world-famous for having made the flights, credited in contemporary Scientific American articles for these accomplishments on at least five occasions.(3.) He became overshadowed by later inventors, such as the Wrights and Curtiss.

  1. http://gustavewhitehead.info/gustave-whitehead-powered-flight-witnesses/
  2. http://gustavewhitehead.info/local-newspaper-evidence-whiteheads-1901-flights/
  3. http://gustavewhitehead.info/scientific-american-on-early-flights/
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    I would expect a page dedicated to Whitehead to make such claims. As ist stands, this answer is not well sourced
    – npst
    Dec 28, 2018 at 10:49
  • The Wright Brothers' exploits are well documented and verified by independent sources. As far as Whitehead's exploits are concerned there is very little other than a few accounts by people who couldn't really be considered independent. While it's possible Whitehead did indeed beat the Wrights into the air we have to go with the group that provide the verifiable proof that they actually did it. As the Wrights can prove that they flew and Whitehead can't I think the Wright's place in history is still secure unless hard evidence comes to light otherwise.
    – GordonM
    Dec 31, 2018 at 15:58
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    I think the fact that Whitehead was unable to produce an engine lightweight and powerful enough to power an airplane when commissioned to do so years later casts considerable doubt on his claim to be first with powered flight.
    – antlersoft
    Dec 31, 2018 at 16:39
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    Linking to one's own site or publication is perfectly fine (as long as it's not commercial advertisement), please don't flag this as spam, because it is not.
    – Sklivvz
    Jan 4, 2019 at 8:15
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    @DenisS So, someone presumably knowledgeable enough on a topic to have written a book on the topic cannot mention that fact? Do you know what spam actually is?
    – user11643
    Jan 4, 2019 at 22:22

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