Gustave Whitehead's ‘first in flight’ to be celebrated at free Saturday event

A celebration to honor the 112th anniversary of Gustave Whitehead’s historic first flight will take place Saturday, Aug. 17 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Discovery Museum and Planetarium, 4450 Park Ave., Bridgeport.

The event, free and open to the public, is being organized by the Discovery Museum and the city of Bridgeport.

Later, a special post-event tethered hot-air balloon ride will be offered for a limited number of guests from 5-7 p.m.

During the day, there will be presentations by aviation historian John Brown, actor and Whitehead enthusiast John Ratzenberger, and pilot and builder of the replica Whitehead airplane Andy Kosch.

The event’s goal is to promote awareness about aviator Gustave Whitehead, who many claim was the first man to fly in 1901 — before the Wright brothers did so in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, N.C.

See a replica of Whitehead Flyer

Weather permitting, the replica of Gustave Whitehead Flyer “No. 21,” which Kosch successfully flew, will be on display with an interactive presentation.

Build Right–Fly Right Hobbies of Wallingford will fly model planes and have demonstrations suitable for all ages throughout the day. Planetarium shows, educational demonstrations for children, and a tethered flight of the Discovery Museum’s high-altitude balloon also are planned for a full day of family activities.

Guests are invited to explore the new “First In Flight” exhibit featuring period photographs, news articles and personal accounts of Whitehead and his 1901 flight on the beaches of Bridgeport.

State and local officials and dignitaries are expected to attend a special VIP reception from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. for an additional session with Brown, Ratzenberger and Kosch.

Is aviation history being rewritten?

Now recognized by the internationally renowned publication Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft as the first to pilot a heavier-than-air aircraft two years before the Wright brothers, German immigrant Gustave Whitehead has captured the attention of Connecticut and the international aviation community as the debate of who was first in flight continues.

In related news, Trumbull resident Tom Pieragostini has been named the chairman of the Gustave Whitehead Committee USA.

About the three presenters

John Brown: The aviation historian revealed photographic proof of Gustave Whitehead’s inaugural flight in Bridgeport. While sifting through archives in the attic of a museum in Bavaria, Germany, Brown found a panoramic photograph from 1901 showing Whitehead flying his plane in Bridgeport. As a direct result of this discovery, the authoritative aviation publication Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft has endorsed Whitehead as “first in flight.”

John Ratzenberger: The Bridgeport native is best known for playing mail carrier Cliff Clavin on the sitcom “Cheers.” He produced and hosted “Made in America,” a program for the Travel Channel. He also co-authored “We’ve Got it Made in America: A Common Man’s Salute to an Uncommon Country.”

Andy Kosch: He led a team that built and flew a replica of Gustave Whitehead’s “No. 21” airplane in 1986, proving the airworthiness of the design and refuting many Whitehead critics. Kosch is an ultra-light pilot, biology teacher and Whitehead historian. He has worked tirelessly in Connecticut and internationally to keep Whitehead’s achievements from being forgotten.

Schedule of Saturday events

All day: Presentations by Brown, Ratzenberger and Kosch

All day: Educational demonstrations and hands-on activities, including for children

All day: Model airplane flights and demonstrations by Build Right–Fly Right Hobbies

All day: Replica of Gustave Whitehead Flyer “No. 21” on display (weather permitting)

All day: Access to all museum exhibits and galleries

11 a.m.-3 p.m.: Food by Taco Loco

1 p.m.: High-altitude balloon tethered flight (weather permitting)

1 p.m.: Planetarium show, “The Little Star That Could”

2 p.m.: Planetarium show, “Dawn”

3 p.m.: Planetarium show, “Skies Tonight”

4 p.m.: Re/Max Heritage hot-air balloon inflation

5-7 p.m.: Tethered hot-air balloon flight for limited number of guests ($10 donation)

Sponsors and more information

Event sponsors include city of Bridgeport, Fairfield Museum and History Center, Re/Max Heritage, Volo Aviation, Pullman & Comley, and Connecticut Air and Space Center.

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