The First to Fly Controversy

Recently the publication, Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft declared at that aviator Gustave Whitehead, instead of the Wright brothers, was the first to take to the air in the sustained operation of a flying machine.

Locomotive to Aeromotive coverThe claim has caused quite a dustup amongst flight historians.  Some crucial evidence supporting the Wright brothers’ title may pivot with aviation pioneer Octave Chanute, the subject of University of Illinois Press author Simine Short’s book, Locomotive to Aeromotive.

Smithsonian Magazine notes that as far back as 1901, Chanute had already found doubts about Whitehead’s claims of operating the first airplane.

Smithsonian also notes that Whitehead may have been cribbing some designs of a glider Octave Chanute and his assistant, Augustus Moore Herring, and flown off the shore of Lake Michigan in the summer of 1896.

No matter who made the first airborne trip, it was a new breed of innovative engineers and advocates such as Chanute who pushed those early experiments towards the beginning of an industry that would “take flight.”


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