Unit 2: Science Connection

Learn More

Who Was the First in Flight?

On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew a small powered plane for 12 seconds.

That amazing feat was done at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. But did Orville and Wilbur Wright actually make the first successful flying machine, as the history books say?

Some people are not so sure. They agree that the Wright brothers made their historic flight. But they say the first powered flight was made two years earlier.

Was Whitehead First?

According to Andrew Kosch, Gustave Whitehead was the first person to fly a small flying machine. Kosch said Whitehead made four flights on August 14, 1901, near Bridgeport, Connecticut. “My aim is to show Gustave Whitehead flew an airplane in 1901 and he should be in the history books,” Kosch said.

To prove his point, Kosch made and flew a replica, or copy, of Whitehead's plane, called No. 21.

Flying a replica, however, does not prove that No. 21 flew in 1901. It only proves that the plane could have flown.

Yet Kosch has other evidence that Whitehead was first in flight. He has news reports from 1901 that tell of the flight. He even has a drawing of the plane in the air.

Did Whitehead Fly?

Peter Jakab of the National Air and Space Museum doubts whether No. 21 flew. He notes that no photos of the flight were taken. He says that eyewitnesses mentioned in stories about No. 21 later said they never saw it fly.

For now, history remains unchanged. Whether Whitehead actually flew first remains one of history's mysteries.

Word Wise

aim:
A purpose or goal: The aim of the school raffle is to raise money for the class field trip.

replica:
A copy: We built a small replica of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks.

evidence:
Facts or signs that help one find out the truth or come to a conclusion: After the painting was stolen, the police searched for evidence to help them find the thief.

eyewitness:
A person who has seen someone or something: Many eyewitnesses saw the dog rescue the boy from the ice.

Back to Article

Activity

Write a short story using each of the vocabulary words above. Draw a picture to accompany your story.

Data Hunt

Do you think Gustave Whitehead was the first to fly? Or do you believe that Wilbur and Orville Wright were the first?

  • Imagine that you will take part in a debate. Write down all of the facts from the article that support your opinion.
  • Make an organized display of your data to use during your presentation.