The Smithsonian recently released a controversial contract curators signed with Orville Wright back in 1948 that declared the Wright brothers to be “first in flight,” regardless of any other claims to the title.
"The Smithsonian shall [not state] any aircraft ... earlier than the Wright aeroplane of 1903 ... was capable of carrying a man under its own power in controlled flight," the contract states, according to FoxNews.com. With the release of the contract, the Smithsonian has urged the public to form their own opinions.
According to the popular version of aviation history, Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first to fly a manned aircraft on Dec. 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Smithsonian still features the Wright brothers’ original aircraft.
However, there are some disagreements regarding whether the Wright brothers were in fact the first in flight, particularly from Australian aviation historian John Brown, who apparently recently found a photograph proving German immigrant Gustav Whitehead was the first man in flight. According to Brown, Whitehead flew and aircraft over Connecticut on Aug. 14, 1901.
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Orville Wright sent the plane to London’s Science Museum in 1928 after the Smithsonian angered him with a display of its own version of an airplane, labeling it “the first airplane capable of flight.” Then, once the Smithsonian demanded ownership of the original Wright brothers’ aircraft, they agreed to sign a contract with Orville Wright in 1942, stating the Wright brothers were first in flight. At that point, the museum was able to secure ownership of the airplane from the London Science Museum after World War II.
Brown, angry that the Wright brothers have gotten all the credit, wrote to Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics at the Smithsonian.
“You saying the Wrights flew first is like Bill Gates saying Microsoft products are good -- except that Bill is more credible because no contract actually requires him to say that,” Brown wrote.
Crouch, however, denies Brown’s claims.
“I can only repeat that if substantial evidence of a pre-Wright flight claim were to be produced, I hope I would have the courage to admit it.”