Should Wright brothers' plane be on Ohio's seal?

Posted at 11:02 PM, Jan 27, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Should Ohio change its official seal to better cement the state as the birthplace of aviation?

That's the thinking behind a bill heard Wednesday in the House State Government Committee.

The Buckeye State, home of the Wright brothers, has been in a years-long feud with Connecticut over who took flight first. A 2013 Connecticut law honors aviator Gustave Whitehead as flying in 1901, two years ahead of Dayton residents Orville and Wilbur Wright's famous flight off Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

But a resolution that cleared Ohio's Legislature last month rejects the notion Whitehead ever flew a powered, heavier-than-air machine of his own design.

Orville and Wilbur Wright in 1910. Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers

Ohio's new measure would add the Wright Flyer, considered the first successful heavier-than-air powered aircraft, to the state's Great Seal. The idea has been proposed before, but it hasn't flown in the past.

Along with the words "The Great Seal of the State of Ohio," Ohio's current seal contains the state's coat of arms, specifically:

"a circular shield; in the right foreground of the shield a full sheaf of wheat bound and standing erect; in the left foreground, a cluster of seventeen arrows bound in the center and resembling in form the sheaf of wheat; in the background, a representation of Mount Logan, Ross county, as viewed from Adena state memorial; over the mount, a rising sun three-quarters exposed and radiating thirteen rays to represent the thirteen original colonies shining over the first state in the northwest territory, the exterior extremities of which rays form a semicircle; and uniting the background and foreground, a representation of the Scioto river and cultivated fields."

The wheat, if you were wondering, represents Ohio's contributions to agriculture, and the 17 arrows represent Ohio's status as the 17th state admitted to the Union. According to the Ohio Secretary of State's website, early versions of the seal had a canal boat, but it's since been removed. And the landscape in the seal is from an area near Chillicothe, Ohio's first capital.


So What Do the Experts Say?

Tom Crouch, senior curator for aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution, which displays Wilbur and Orville Wright's plane at the National Air and Space Museum, said Whitehead's backers are "absolutely wrong."

To be sure, Connecticut has a long and storied history in aviation. Aircraft engines were made at Pratt and Whitney in East Hartford beginning in 1925, and a desk used by Charles Lindbergh is still on display at the jet engine manufacturer. And famed helicopter maker Igor Sikorsky set up shop in Stratford in 1929 to make seaplanes.

A recent burst of interest in Whitehead followed a documentary by an Australian historian, John Brown. In addition, Whitehead Research Committees in the United States and Germany have stoked interest. Jane's All the World's Aircraft, an influential industry publication, recently cited contemporary news accounts in concluding that Whitehead beat the brothers from Dayton, Ohio, into the air.

Andrew Kosch, a high school science teacher in Milford, said he has been working 30 years to promote Whitehead's achievement. He lobbied the legislature and even persuaded Chip's Family Restaurant in Fairfield to name an omelet the No. 21, for the plane Whitehead flew.

He said the aviator is well-known in Connecticut for flying before the Wright brothers and the world now needs to know it.

"How can you prove someone didn't fly? That's what the Smithsonian is trying to do," Kosch said.

He and Miller said the Smithsonian is forbidden by a contract with the executors of the Wright brothers' estate to admit that anyone else was the first to fly.

Meanwhie, the great-grand-niece of the Wright brothers, Amanda Wright Lane, made a repeat trip to the Ohio Statehouse in late October to support her relatives' legacy. She told an Ohio Senate committee ahead of the first flight resolution's unanimous approval that their 12-second flight "changed our nation and our world and, frankly, our relationship with the universe forever."

Lane said her uncles meticulously recorded their research and accomplishments, in writing and on camera, and their claim to flying the first powered, heavier-than-air machine is unquestionable.

She said their flight is represented in the "iconic photo" of the Wright flyer, "journals of data, letters, testimony, patent applications, more photos and published research."