Local man Gustav Whitehead credited as first to fly

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH)– A Connecticut man is finally getting the credit he deserves 113 years after making history.

It’s a story that’s been a long time coming for his family. Amid all the graves at Lake View Cemetery in Bridgeport you’ll find the past etched in stone and one stands out more than the others. The final resting place of Gustav Whitehead. His claim to fame, defies history as we know it.

“On August 14th 1901 Gustav Whitehead flew half a mile, 40 feet in the air in Fairfield,” said Andy Kosch, CT Air and Space Center.

That flight was two years before the Wright brothers took to the sky, which puts Whitehead in a class all his own.

“It shows and it spells out that he indeed was first in flight,” said Susan Del Bianco, local historian.

Whitehead was a native of Germany. He then moved to Connecticut. There is a picture of the bird-like aircraft he flew in Fairfield — simply known as “Number 21.”

whitehead plane

“Mr. Whitehead was not really a public relations man. I don’t think he knew what he had or that it was of any practical value,” said Del Bianco.

Due to the high publicity of the Wright brothers’ first flight, Whitehead was somewhat over shadowed. But that has changed.

“Just recently Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft has accepted Gustav Whitehead as the first to fly. Jane’s is the bible of aviation,” said Kosch.

Most recently a group of local historians and relatives watched as this stone was placed at the foot of his grave. Donated by a local business, it show’s Connecticut’s acknowledgement of Whitehead’s accomplishment.

Ken Kusterer remembers hearing about the flight at age 12. He didn’t really give it much thought then. Believe it or not — he’s Whitehead’s grandson.

“I really didn’t know how important it was him making the flight like this. Now — it’s common knowledge among all three generations,” said Kusterer.

“When I was back in elementary school we would learn about the Wright brothers and they would say they were first in flight and I would tell them that they were wrong and I got sent to the principal’s office because of it,” said Sammie Kusterer, great great granddaughter.

whitehead stone

We now know that Whitehead’s accomplishment has been acknowledged on an international level. As well as locally here in Connecticut. The only issue, the Smithsonian has yet to recognize that Whitehead was in fact first in flight.

“The difficult issue that we have is that the Smithsonian institution has a contract with the Wright brothers, has a contract that forbids them from saying anyone flew before the Wright brothers,” said Kusterer.

Whether that will change remains uncertain. But for now — this foot stone symbolizes one thing.

“We should give credit, where credit is due.”

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