Fairfield has officially joined the First in Flight fight.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau issued a proclamation Wednesday declaring it to be Gustave Whitehead Day in town, recognizing Aug. 14 as the day that 112 years earlier the first powered flight by man took place.
And that historic first flight was made in Fairfield, according to the proclamation, by aviation pioneer Whitehead. Advocates of Whitehead's recognition say that his early exploits in flying in both Fairfield and Bridgeport preceded by several years the much more widely celebrated 1903 flight by brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
Fairfield's formal foray into the fracas over the First in Flight crown claimed for years by Kitty Hawk -- recognized by historical arbiters like the Smithsonian Institution -- follows approval in June by the state's General Assembly of legislation declaring that "the first powered flight (was) by Gustave Whitehead, rather than the Wright Brothers."
The campaign to recognize Whitehead, a German immigrant who at one time lived in Fairfield on Alvin Street, gained steam in March when Jane's All the World's Aircraft, an internationally respected authority on aviation history, recognized his 1901 flight as the first. That flight apparently took place in the area along the town's shoreline, where South Benson Marina now is located.
In his statement, Tetreau cited aviation historian John Brown's research that described Whitehead's flight in his Condor No. 21 aircraft as follows: "Two months later, on August 14, 1901, he (Whitehead) invited the press to witness his first, successful, manned, powered flight. Whitehead's aircraft was `roadable'. Its wings could be folded and it had wheelpower for driving on roads. Leaving Bridgeport shortly after midnight, he, his helpers and the press drove the aircraft under its own power 15 miles to the same Fairfield site as the previous tests. They arrived at first light (4:32 am according to current US Navy tables). After rigging the machine, Whitehead took off at dawn (5:02 am), flying first half a mile, then on his second flight, a mile and a half at a height of 50 feet, making a shallow turn along the way to avoid a clump of chestnut trees."
In conjunction with Fairfield's official recognition of Whitehead's achievements, Tetreau said that on Aug. 21 the Board of Selectmen will honor town resident Andrew Kosch, who has long advocated Whitehead's cause. In 1986, Kosch led a team that built and flew a replica of Whitehead's airplane to prove the airworthiness of its design. The selectmen's meeting that day is set for 4:30 p.m. in Sullivan-Independence Hall.
"This recent revelation that Whitehead was first in flight is exciting and historic for the Town of Fairfield," Tetreau said in his statement. "Our town is very proud that one of our own has made an unforgettable legacy through his ingenuity and leap of faith."