Photo of Orville Wright making the first powered flight on Dec. 17, 1903.
Dec. 17, 1903: Orville Wright takes off on the first successful powered flight. (Photo: Library of Congress)

Jane’s backs off Gustave Whitehead claim

In NAHA News /

The publisher of a column that prompted Connecticut to declare itself “first in flight” has distanced itself from the claim in a statement it issued in response to a query by the New York Times.

The Times on Friday, April 17, published an article on its website  about the controversy surrounding the Connecticut law that claims Gustave Whitehead, a Connecticut resident, flew a powered airplane in 1901, two years before Wilbur and Orville Wright. The article noted state lawmakers jumped on the claim in 2013 after it was raised in a column published in IHS Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft by Editor-in-Chief Paul Jackson.

Deep in the article, the Times reports an IHS statement that the journal’s article “was intended to stimulate discussion about first in flight,” and “reflected Mr. Jackson’s opinion on the issue and not that of IHS Jane’s.” Jackson, it said, wasn’t available for comment.

At NAHA’s request, IHS Jane’s provided the following statement:

“In March 2013, IHS Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft Editor Paul Jackson wrote an article based on recently discovered data recognizing Gustave Whitehead – not the Wright Brothers– as first to make a manned, powered, controlled flight. The article was intended to stimulate discussion about first in flight. The article reflected Mr. Jackson’s opinion on the issue and not that of IHS Jane’s.

“IHS Jane’s recognizes and respects that there are differing views on this historical analysis and IHS makes no argument about the success of the Wright Brothers, who hold their rightful place in history as aviation pioneers and heroes. As an organization that values impartiality and balance, IHS Jane’s made several offers to supporters of the Wright brothers to provide a counter piece to Mr. Jackson’s article, but no one accepted the opportunity.”

In several conversations and letters with IHS executives, NAHA never received an offer to counter Jackson’s column, nor did IHS executives say an offer had been made to others.

Historians have dismissed the Whitehead claim repeatedly over the years, citing a lack of evidence.   Jackson’s column offered no significant new evidence to justify overturning the long-held consensus of the world’s leading aviation historians and scholars. NAHA notes that IHS Jane’s does not support its editor’s position, yet it still declines to credit the Wright brothers as first in powered flight.