Officials honor resident for advocacy of Whitehead's 'first in flight' claim
Updated 8:49 am, Sunday, August 25, 2013
Gustave Whitehead is finally getting his due.
The town of Fairfield, where aviation pioneer Whitehead is believed to have flown a powered aircraft two years before the Wright brothers did at Kitty Hawk, N.C., issued a proclamation on Wednesday declaring Aug. 21, 2013, as "Andy Kosch Day" in recognition of Kosch's longtime advocacy to help "prove that Gustave Whitehead, a former Fairfield resident, was first in flight by showing the airworthiness of the replica's design."
Fairfield's proclamation comes on the heels of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's declaration in June of "Powered Flight Day" that commemorates the first powered flight by Whitehead and no longer the Wright brothers, and Jane's All the World's Aircraft's recognition in its 100th anniversary edition this year that Whitehead made the first manned, powered and controlled flight.
"Gustave Whitehead flew in 1901, right here in Fairfield, and that's amazing," Kosch, a former science teacher at Roger Ludlowe High School, said during Wednesday afternoon's Board of Selectmen's meeting in Sullivan-Independence Hall. "Fairfield should be like Kitty Hawk, North Carolina."
Kosch said he grew up believing that the Wright brothers made the first powered flight in 1903, but after he built a replica of the plane Whitehead flew on Aug. 14, 1901, he said he became convinced that the distinction belongs to Whitehead.
Selectman Kevin Kiley agreed. "I believe Mr. Whitehead is the winner. Fairfield is first in flight from everything I know about it," he said.
Whitehead's airplane traveled for a half-mile at a top height of 50 feet, which exceeded the Kitty Hawk's best flight two years later of 852 feet at a height of 10 feet, according to the Wikipedia page on Whitehead.
First Selectman Michael Tetreau, who issued the proclamation, said Whitehead's early flights took place in Fairfield, Bridgeport and Stratford and that the description of his flight in Fairfield -- the length, height and ability to change direction to avoid trees -- indicates that his aircraft was powered by an engine and not simply an early version of a hang glider. "His innovation was coming up with a very low-weight and high-powered engine," Tetreau said.
A report in the Bridgeport Herald published on Aug. 18, 1901, says Whitehead drove his airplane to the site where he tested it, indicating it was powered by an engine, and that it worked like a car when the wings were folded against its sides, according to Whitehead's Wikipedia page.
Tetreau said a replica of Whitehead's plane has been flown but a model of the Wright brothers' plane "has never been flown." He said credible sources also witnessed Whitehead's 1901 flight.
Kosch, who now teaches at Platt Technical High School in Milford, built a replica of Whitehead's flyer No. 21 in 1985 and flew it for 330 feet about 5 or 6 feet off the ground at Sikorsky Airport in 1986, according to the proclamation. Kosch took his replica to an Experimental Aircraft Association Fly-In in Wisconsin in 1987 where more than a million people saw it over a week, including visitors from Leutershausen, Germany, where Whitehead was born in 1874. The visitors from Leutershausen asked Kosch to take the replica to Germany so they could build their own, the proclamation says.
The proclamation states that Kosch has appeared on a variety of television shows, such as "60 Minutes" and CBS News, and that he has displayed the replica locally at the Fairfield Museum and History Center, Fairfield's Earth Day celebration, the Barnum Festival parade and the Discovery Museum, both in Bridgeport. Tetreau said the Discovery Museum has an ongoing exhibit of Whitehead's achievement and has been "crucial in getting the record of history corrected."
In the proclamation, Tetreau calls upon "all citizens to congratulate and honor Andy Kosch for helping prove that Gustave Whitehead, a former Fairfield resident, was first in flight by showing the airworthiness of the replica's design."
Photographs of Whitehead's airplane in flight don't exist, and Kosch said he hopes people follow the story of Whitehead and look in their attics and cellars to see if photos of any of Whitehead's flights might unexpectedly be among things handed down by ancestors.