United States: Were the Wright Brothers the First to Successfully Fly an Airplane?

Aviation

Try Googling “first successful flight” in English and you’ll get 178,000,000 results, and most of them will be for the Wright Brothers with a date of 17 December 1903. Now try conducting the same on-line search in Portuguese.

As every American elementary school pupil knows, the Wright Brothers conducted the first successful airplane flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on 17 December 2015. Or did they?

Orville and Wilbur Wright, a.k.a. the Wright Brothers, are credited with inventing the world’s first successful heavier than air airplane, which successfully took flight on 17 December 2003 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The Wright Brothers made 3 more brief flights that day.

The Wright Brother first flight flew a distance of only 12 feet and lasted only 12 seconds. But it was quite an impressive feat at the time.

To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, it was one short flight for aviators, one giant leap for aviation.

While other would-be pilots had built and flown experimental aircraft, the Wright Brothers’ breakthrough was their invention of a 3 axis control, which made fixed wing flight possible.

Santos-Dumont

But don’t tell that to the Brazilians, who credit Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont (1873 – 1932) with making the world’s first successful, powered, heavier than air flight on 23 October 1906 in Paris, France.

If that flight took place nearly 3 years later, how could the Brazilians claim their aviator had been the world’s first aviator to successful fly a heavier than air aircraft?

To start with, they say that the Wright Brothers used a catapult to launch their craft instead of an undercarriage with wheels. Not only that, there weren’t any witnesses.

And there were other reasons:

A) the flight should be done before an official organization, qualified to ratify it;

B) the flight should be done in calm weather and over a plain ground, and properly documented;

C) the machine should be able to take off from a designated area by its own means with a man on board;

D) the machine should carry on board the necessary source of energy;

E) the machine should fly in a straight line;

F) the machine should make a change of direction (turn and circle); G) the machine should return to the starting point.

Federation Aéronautique International

Santos-Dumont is considered a national hero in Brazil, where he is known as “the Father of Flight”. One of the 2 airports serving Rio de Janeiro is named after the Brazilian aviator.

What more proof do you need?

What About Gustave Whitehead?

So whose claim is valid – the Wright Brothers or Santos Dumont?

Maybe neither of the claims is legitimate.

“Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft” came forward with “new evidence” in an article published in 2013 suggesting that American aviator Gustave Whitehead made 2 successful flights on 14 August 1901 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, with one of them covering 1 ½ miles at a height of 50 feet.

But the “Scientist American” refuted the claim the following year, saying that Whitehead had not actually flown in an airplane but in a glider, which had been “pulled aloft and steered by a man running along the ground and pulling a rope, which is different from successfully flying an airplane.”

OMG! The next thing you know they are going to tell me that Benjamin Franklin didn’t discover electricity.

 

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