DAYTON, Ohio—The National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) has written a Connecticut state senator and the publisher of IHS Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, asking them to reveal the evidence they claim to have that Gustave Whitehead was first in flight.
NAHA released the letter Tuesday, May 12, in conjunction with the Ohio House of Representatives’ passage of a bill repudiating Connecticut’s claim that Whitehead “successfully flew a powered, heavier than air machine of his own design on August 14, 1901, or on any other date.”
The bill, sponsored by Ohio Rep. Rick Perales, R-Beavercreek, was in response to a law Connecticut passed in 2013 that replaced the Wright brothers with Whitehead as the person to honor for the first flight. The bill passed 90-0.
NAHA’s letter was addressed to State Sen. Kevin Kelly and IHS President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Key. It asks Kelly to disclose what he described as “mounting evidence” of Whitehead’s flight in defending his continued support for the law, as well as a bill he introduced that would designate Aug. 14 as “Gustave Whitehead Day” in Connecticut.
The letter also asked Key to produce the evidence his company says prompted IHS Jane’s Editor-in-Chief Paul Jackson to endorse the Whitehead claim in a March 2013 column. In the column, Jackson also referred to a “vast cache of documentary evidence” supporting the claim.
“If you can’t provide the evidence you have claimed to possess, then Sen. Kelly, you and your fellow legislatures should correct your law, and Mr. Key, IHS should admit that the Jane’s column was wrong,” said the letter, signed by NAHA Executive Director Tony Sculimbrene.
“Otherwise,” it added, “both the state of Connecticut and IHS will be subject to increasing embarrassment as impartial observers begin to take a serious look at the lack of real evidence behind your claims.”
Thirty-four historians and researchers have signed a statement that “the evidence now available fails to support the claim that Gustave Whitehead made sustained, powered, controlled flights prior to the Wright brothers.” Last week, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, author of the new book The Wright Brothers, added his voice. The Royal Aeronautical Society’s Historical Group also released a statement that the Whitehead claim lacks evidence.
Kelly and other Connecticut lawmakers seized on the IHS Jane’s column as justification for the legislation. But IHS distanced itself from the column in April by releasing a statement saying, in part, Jackson’s column was “based on recently discovered data” but “reflected Mr. Jackson’s opinion on the issue and not that of IHS Jane’s.”
NAHA also repeated a request first made in October 2013 for IHS to explain how Jackson researched his column, such as consulting with credentialed historians or using fact-checkers to verify its accuracy. To date, IHS has only said an “investigation” found Jackson’s methods followed its “editorial processes for fact-based analysis.”
The letter also asked Key to disclose which “defenders of the Wright brothers” were offered a chance to counter the column, as the IHS statement asserted. NAHA did not receive such an offer, nor did Dr. Tom Crouch, an eminent aviation historian, Wright brothers biographer and NAHA trustee.
A copy of the letter is available for download here.
The National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) is a nonprofit chartered by Congress in 2004 as the management entity for the National Aviation Heritage Area, a region of national historical importance encompassing Montgomery, Greene, Miami, Clark, Warren, Champaign, Shelby, and Auglaize counties. The Heritage Area is one of 49 National Heritage Areas in a program administrated by the National Park Service, and the only one dedicated to aviation heritage.