Way Back When .... 1986

This weekend marks the anniversary of what many now believe to be the first flight. On Aug. 14, 1901, Gustave Whitehead took off in a plane in the Fairfield Beach area, two years before the Wright Brothers made their well-known flight. Whitehead’s manned, sustained, powered flight took place at Turney’s Farm in Fairfield in his No. 21 “Flyer.”

In December 1986, local teacher Andy Kosch tested a replica of Whitehead’s aircraft, in order to prove that the design was capable of flight. Kosch, who had experience with hanggliders, had built the replica with a team of volunteers over the previous year and a half, at a hangar at Captain’s Cove Seaport in Bridgeport. Kosch reached a height of 5 or 6 feet in the replica, and made a series of flight jumps, the longest of which was 100 meters. When a nearby photographer was injured, however, he retired the replica. (Another Whitehead replica was tested in Germany in 1998, achieving a distance of 500 meters.)

This year, on Saturday the Fairfield Museum will host a “Fly In” with Kosch’s replica of Whitehead’s plane on display and aerial demonstrations of aircraft and drones by HobbyTown USA of Fairfield. The Fairfield Flying Aces, an RC aircraft club, will also be on hand to do demonstrations. The first 50 children will receive a balsa wood model flyer to assemble and fly!

In addition, Susan Brinchman, author of “Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight,” will be making a virtual presentation in the Museum’s Meeting Hall at 1 p.m. She will share strong new evidence supporting his controversial pre-Kitty Hawk flights and his many contributions to modern flight. Brinchman’s book is available in the Fairfield Museum library and in the Museum Shop.

Want to learn more? The Fairfield Museum’s library has several books regarding Gustave Whitehead as well as the William O’Dwyer Gustave Whitehead Research Collection, which contains photographs, newspaper articles, and correspondence about Whitehead’s flights. The library also has witness accounts and news articles compiled by Brinchman.

The Fairfield Museum and History Center is located at 370 Beach Road. Learn more about the history and culture of Fairfield, view rotating exhibitions and purchase Fairfield-themed gifts at the Museum Shop. Open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information visit Fairfieldhistory.org or call 203-259-1598.