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Connecticut Senate passes bill writing Wright Brothers out of history

  • Wright_Flyer_First_Flight 660.jpg

    Dec. 17 1903: The first flight by Wright brothers Ovrville and Wilbur, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

  • gustav-whitehead-01.JPG

    Gustave Whitehead, 2nd from left, with visitors in front of his "No 21". At his feet the self built gas pressure motor.Flight Historical Research Foundation Gustav Weisskopf

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    The gas pressure motor was used to drive the wheels.Flight Historical Research Foundation Gustav Weisskopf

Are they righting a wrong or wronging the Wrights?

The Connecticut Senate passed a bill just after midnight on Wednesday that would delete the Wright brothers from history, explicitly stripping recognition for the first powered flight from Orville and Wilbur and assigning it to someone else.

'At least in Connecticut, aviation history now appears to have been rewritten.'

- Aviation historian John Brown

“The Governor shall proclaim a date certain in each year as Powered Flight Day to honor the first powered flight by [the Wright brothers] Gustave Whitehead and to commemorate the Connecticut aviation and aerospace industry,” reads House Bill No. 6671, which now sits on the Governor’s desk awaiting passage into law.

"There’s no question that the Wright brothers will retain their place in aviation history," Republican state Sen. Mike McLachlan told FoxNews.com. "And rightfully so. They just weren't first."

The Governor is likely to sign the bill as early as next week, McLachlan said.

Aviation historian John Brown unveiled in March what he calls photographic proof that Whitehead flew over Connecticut in 1901, “two years, four months, and three days before the Wright brothers.”

"At least in Connecticut, aviation history now appears to have been rewritten,” Brown told FoxNews.com Wednesday. “I have no information about whether school books will be reprinted in time for the start of Fall classes.”

The Wright brothers soared into history books on Dec. 17, 1903, following their historic, 852-foot, 59-second flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. -- an achievement for which the duo are widely described as being “first in flight.” But historians have long known that others were working on a variety of flying machines, including a fellow U.S. resident, German immigrant Gustave Whitehead (born Weisskopf).

Read the fine print

A 1948 contract between the Smithsonian museum and Orville Wright requires the museum to call the Wright Flyer the first real airplane, critics argue. Here, the relevant excerpt from the contract:

“Neither the Smithsonian Institution nor its successors, nor any museum or other agency ... or its successors shall publish or permit to be displayed a statement or label in connection with or in respect of any aircraft model or design of earlier date than the Wright Aeroplane of 1903, claiming in effect that such aircraft was capable of carrying a man under its own power in controlled flight.”

Read the full contract here.

Whitehead flew early in the morning of Aug. 14, 1901, Brown said. His winged, bird-like plane was called No. 21, or "The Condor"; with wooden wheels and canvas wings stretched taut across bat-like wooden arms, it rose over the darkened streets of Bridgeport, Conn., and covered an estimated 1.5 miles at a height of 50 feet, he said.

Since Brown’s March revelation, controversy has swirled around his claims.

Historians with the Smithsonian Museum in particular -- curators of the Wright Brother’s plane -- continue to express doubts about Brown’s claims.

"I’m still absolutely convinced -- as I think most historians are -- that the Wrights were first, and Whitehead in all probability never left the ground," Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics from the museum, told FoxNews.com. Besides, history is factual, not based on laws, he said.

"You don’t legislate history. History is a process. People make up their minds based, I hope, on some thought given to the evidence," he said.

"And I think when people do look seriously at the evidence for the Whitehead claims, they’ll see that it falls apart."

McLachlan told FoxNews.com he found the information convincing enough.

"If more information comes along in history, we always change the history books. That’s been going on for years," he told FoxNews.com.

Brown trumpeted the bill, which he said was based not on partisan beliefs but on hard facts.

“These weren't just people cheering the home team,” he told FoxNews.com. “Several legislators -- from both parties -- contacted me before the vote … they'd clearly done their homework and asked hardball questions.”

“It was refreshing for me to see how seriously they took their vote,” Brown added.

While Kitty Hawk, N.C., has become well associated with flight thanks to Orville and Wilbur, Connecticut has a deep history in the aviation world as well. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., maker of the Black Hawk helicopter, is headquartered mere miles from the site of Whitehead’s achievement.

"North Carolina’s license plate does say first in flight," McLachlan told FoxNews.com. "I think we’ll now have a little bit of a discussion between Connecticut and North Carolina to verify who was first."

"It’s a big deal that we have dislocated the Wright brothers as number one," he said.

Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.