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Newly Found Photo Reignites Debate Over ‘First In Flight' Claim

A newly discovered photograph has sparked controversy over whether or not the Wright Brothers were really the first in flight. Some historians are saying that German Immigrant named Gustave Whitehead deserves that distinction but as Emily McCord reports for WYSO, despite the new discovery, the debate has been going on for years.

The photograph in question is actually a photograph within a photograph. Amateur historian John Brown found it in attic in Germany. He claims it shows a plane made by German Immigrant Gustave Whitehead 50 feet in the air in Connecticut in 1901, over two years before Wilbur and Orville’s flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Brown brought that photo to an internationally renowned aviation publication called Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, and an expert there said Gustave Whitehead deserves credit as first in flight.

“The name Whitehead has come up many times and it’s just not credible,” says photographer and historian Dan Patterson.

Patterson says challenges to the Wright’s Brother’s claim has been taking place for years, but nothing has been proven. Patterson adds the photo that has surfaced was magnified and blurry, not like the clear pictures taken of the Wright Brother’s flight.

“The Wright Brothers proved they flew by the weight of their experimentation and the crispness and reality of the photographs they shot. They shot those photographs on purpose, not only to go back and look at their experiments, but it ended proving the point that they flew. They were first,” says Patterson.

Senior Curator of Aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution, Tom Crouch will be in Dayton Wednesday and will address the question at a press briefing. The Wright Brother’s 1903 Flyer is on display at the National Air and Space Museum.

Find the photo in question at analysis at John Brown's website devoted to Gustave Whitehead.