Though the Wright brothers are generally accepted as the first people to have achieved sustained powered flight, claims have been made that some managed to achieve the feat before them.
Gustave Whitehead was one such inventor. Born in Germany in 1874, Whitehead immigrated to the United States as a young man and became involved with early aeronautics. After building and testing numerous gliders, kites, ornithopters, and model airplanes, Whitehead developed the No. 21— a full-sized engine-powered flying machine with ribbed, bird-like wings and a flared tail.
In 1901, Whitehead allegedly flew the No. 21 for a half-mile over a field in Fairfield, Connecticut, two years before the Wrights’ famous flight at Kitty Hawk. The main sources of evidence for this event consist of claims from several eyewitnesses, as well as a lengthy article in the Bridgeport Herald newspaper. However, no photographic evidence of the flight is known to exist.
The story of Whitehead’s reported flight fell into obscurity for several years until a 1935 article in Popular Aviation magazine revived interest in him. In 1968, Whitehead was officially recognized as the “Father of Connecticut Aviation” by the state’s government, though some historians and aviators have questioned the veracity of his flight.
In 2012, the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut dedicated a fountain to Whitehead to acknowledge his contributions to early aeronautics. The monument features a stylized model of the No. 21 flyer that can turn with the wind.
Know Before You Go
The fountain is located on a small traffic island in the median where Commerce Drive/State Street Ext. meets Fairfield Ave/Hwy 130. Traffic around this area can be heavy, so use caution. Parking can be found at the nearby McDonald's and at other nearby shops.