History by Contract
History by Contract, published in 1978, is a book written by Major William J. O'Dwyer, U.S. Air Force Reserve (ret.), of Fairfield, Conn. about the aviation pioneer Gustave Whitehead
Gustave Whitehead
Gustave Albin Whitehead, born Gustav Albin Weisskopf was an aviation pioneer who emigrated from Germany to the U.S., where he designed and built early flying machines and engines meant to power them....


After spending 30 years and a "small fortune" on detective work, O'Dwyer was convinced that historians who labeled Whitehead an empty dreamer or an outright charlatan were way off base. "It's strange," he said, "that those opinions evolved without extensive research, official inquiry or probe." In addition to presenting evidence that Whitehead made powered airplane flights more than two years before the Wright brothers
Wright brothers
The Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur , were two Americans credited with inventing and building the world's first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903...

, O'Dwyer's book says a 1948 agreement between the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

 and heirs of the Wright brothers unfairly hinders serious consideration of flight claims that precede the Wrights.

The title's meaning

The "contract" of the book title refers to the Wright-Smithsonian agreement. It prohibits the Smithsonian from officially recognizing any manned, powered, controlled airplane flight before that of the Wright brothers on Dec. 17, 1903. The agreement ended a bitter feud that existed between Orville Wright and the Smithsonian over credit for the first such flight. After short test flights of the heavily-modified Langley Aerodrome
Langley Aerodrome
The Langley Aerodrome was a pioneering but unsuccessful manned, powered flying machine designed at the close of the 19th century by Smithsonian Institution Secretary Samuel Langley. The U.S...

 by Glenn Curtiss
Glenn Curtiss
Glenn Hammond Curtiss was an American aviation pioneer and a founder of the U.S. aircraft industry. He began his career as a bicycle then motorcycle builder and racer, later also manufacturing engines for airships as early as 1906...

 in 1914, the Smithsonian claimed that the Aerodrome, created by former Smithsonian Secretary Samuel Langley and unsuccessfully tested shortly before the 1903 Kitty Hawk flights, was the first winged machine to be "capable" of powered, controlled, manned flight. Orville believed that claim "perverted" the history of flying machines and refused to donate the 1903 Kitty Hawk Flyer
Wright Flyer
The Wright Flyer was the first powered aircraft, designed and built by the Wright brothers. They flew it four times on December 17, 1903 near the Kill Devil Hills, about four miles south of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S.The U.S...

 to the Smithsonian, loaning it instead to the London Science Museum. When the Smithsonian recanted its claim, Orville agreed to have the Flyer sent back, but died before it returned to the U.S.

Whitehead's work

Research showed that Whitehead's 1901 airplane, a high-wing monoplane with an enclosed fuselage and two propellers up front, was closer to today's lightplane configurations than any built by his contemporaries. His U.S. aviation "firsts" numbered more than 20. They included, to name but a few, aluminum in engines and propellers, wheels for takeoff and landing, ground-adjustable propeller pitch, individual control of propellers (to aid in directional control), folding wings for towing on roads (resulting in what was possibly the world's first roadable airplane), silk for wing covering, and concrete for a runway. He built more than 30 aircraft engines and sold them to customers as far west as California. An earlier student of Whitehead's life and career was the late Stella Randolph of Garrett Park, Md., author of two books, Lost Flights of Gustave Whitehead (1937) and Before the Wrights Flew (1966). Despite details, documentation and photos of Whitehead's airplanes and engines on the ground, as well as in-flight photos of Whitehead gliders, the books were denounced by leading aeronautic agencies, including the Smithsonian Institution and the American Institute of Aeronautics. They described Randolph as "unqualified" and her books as "unreliable."

See also

  • Early flight
    Early Flight
    -Personnel:*Marty Balin – guitar, vocals*Paul Kantner – rhythm guitar, vocals*Jorma Kaukonen – lead guitar, vocals*Jack Casady – bass*Grace Slick – vocals on "J. P. P. McStep B. Blues", "Go to Her", "Mexico", and "Have You Seen the Saucers", piano on "Mexico" and "Have You Seen the Saucers"*Spencer...

  • Timeline of aviation
    Timeline of aviation
    This article does not contain direct references or citations but it builds upon other articles in Wikipedia which you can find in the links and in the year by year articles to the left. Those articles have references and citations...

  • Aviation history
    Aviation history
    The history of aviation has extended over more than two thousand years from the earliest attempts in kites and gliders to powered heavier-than-air, supersonic and hypersonic flight.The first form of man-made flying objects were kites...

  • List of years in aviation
  • Gustave Whitehead
    Gustave Whitehead
    Gustave Albin Whitehead, born Gustav Albin Weisskopf was an aviation pioneer who emigrated from Germany to the U.S., where he designed and built early flying machines and engines meant to power them....

External links

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