Video Interview on the very first aviation pioneers
It was on Sunday 27 September live, during La fête de l’aviation, an Aviation Day created in France this year. François Blanc, President of the Association of Professional Journalists of Aeronautics and Space (AJPAE), asked me about the first pioneers of aviation. He also spoke extensively about the book Une autre histoire de l’aviation (Another History of Aviation) which gives pride of place to Gustave Whitehead and Maxime Lenoir. The former would have flown before the Wright brothers, no less, and the latter was known as one of the best aces of the First World War before falling into oblivion. Since then, word-of-mouth must have worked, these two aviation pioneers are no longer completely unknown to enthusiasts.
Gustave Whitehead, a motorist inventor – forgotten pioneer of aviation
It was difficult to talk about all these aviation pioneers in just 44 minutes. Some of them are well known, others not, or not very well, known. Gustave Whitehead, or Gustav Weisskopf for the Germans, is one of them. The book of Susan Brinchman, M. Ed, has been very helpful in keeping the memory of this great inventor alive. She and her father Major William J. O’Dwyer studied this unique case for over five decades! Paul A. Jackson FRAeS in 2013, then editor-in-chief of Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft, declared that Gustave Whitehead had flown before the Wright brothers. It was a real thunderbolt! Karl Heigold, Charles Lautier (U.S.A., CT) and Dénys Karakaya keep researching and studying the amazing case of Gustave Whitehead along with Susan Brinchman. Artemis Media (Tilman Remme & Karen Williams, from Perth, Australia) have produced a film about Gustave Whitehead in 2016. Since then, several television channels have broadcast this film around the world.
The Gustave Whitehead gallery expands
All these factors have given renewed interest to this story. The FFGW continues to maintain a collection on Gustave Whitehead in the Leutershausen Museum. This is Gustav Weisskopf’s birthplace in Bavaria. With the help of Dr. Laura Gebauer and Dagmar Stonus, M.A. of FranKonzept GbR, the renovation of the Leutershausen Museum should be completed by 2022. This is good news as the renovation work includes more space for the collections, including replicas of the famous Number 21.
Yet Gustave Whitehead was well known
The history of the first aviation pioneers shows us this. Other publications have revealed the Bavarian pioneer’s prowess in America. Gustave Whitehead’s Number 21, opposite, had already attracted journalists such as those in Reader’s Digest. Much more time would have been needed to tell other stories of unknown yet formidable aviators. I briefly mentioned the first successful gliding trials in the Arab civilization. They were Abbas ibn Firnas and Al-Jauhari. Then there were many, many advances in the world up to the 20th century. Among these aviation pioneers are some illustrious names. The lesser known are in the book Une autre histoire de l’aviation – Another History of Aviation. The list of names below with links to the video excerpts:
29 historical figures cited in the interview (in French)
Information about Gustave Whitehead / Gustav Weisskopf
Information about Maxime Lenoir
The Touraine native Maxime Lenoir, one of the pioneers of aviation, ace of Verdun in 1916, recipient of the Grande médaille of the Aéro-Club de France and the Gold Medal of the Aeroclub of America (link in French).
Recommended books to learn more about these aviation pioneers
I did not have time to show them all. In order to fully understand the story of Gustave Whitehead, it is necessary to read Gustave Whitehead: First in Flight by Susan Brinchman, M. Ed; History by contract by Major William J. O’Dwyer and Stella Randolph. The History by contract site is also very informative. Joe Bullmer‘s book The WRight story demonstrates why the Wright brothers’ attempts between December 1903 and September 1905 cannot be called flights. Moreover, his arguments are very cogent. Please, this is worth reading: Kitty Hawk – 1903 – What Happened & The Wrights’ fourth flight – Mensuration. Somewhat in the same vein, there is chapter XII of Gabriel Voisin’s Mes 10000 cerfs-volants (My 10,000 Kites) which questions the Wrights’ first Flyers.
The first aviation pioneers in the BIA ( Certificate of initiation in aerospace – in France)
I still teach that the Wright brothers were the first ones to fly because it is in the BIA program. I distinguish between my book Une autre histoire de l’aviation and the official history of the first aviation pioneers.
It all depends on the definition of flight
Every country has a position on the early pioneers of aviation. For all sorts of reasons, it can vary. It depends, of course, on the definition of flight that each country recognises. There are indeed a multitude of definitions of flight. A catapulted flight can, why not, be qualified as flight. But when people repeat that the Wright brothers were the first to identify lateral bank as the initiator of the turn, this is not true. There are about twenty pioneers in the history of science who have demonstrated this phenomenon. One of the very first was the Count of Esterno, who had already published Du vol des oiseaux: Indication des sept lois du vol ramé et des huit lois du vol à voile (The Flight of Birds: Indication of the Seven Laws of Rowing Flight and the Eight Laws of Sailflying) in 1865. Also, I mentioned Mon premier brevet aéronautique (BIA) by Jean Nicolas. As well as Blériot in Britain by Ray Sanger.
Finally, thanks to the whole team of Air Contact and Ciel et plume, Géraldine Galland, Magali Rebeaud, Nicolas Carof. Thanks to François Blanc for his very interesting questions. Thank you to all those who participated in La fête de l’aviation, a concept that will certainly stimulate the aeronautics community in the future.