"On August 14, 1901, almost two and one half years before the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, Gustave Whitehead ... lifted his acetylene-powered monoplane into the air at Fairfield, Connecticut, for his first flight."
So one can read in one of the documents presented in the Gustave Whitehead (Weisskopf) museum , recently inaugurated in Leutershausen, in Bavaria-Franconia (Germany). Furthermore one can read that the machine which took him into the air for the first time, his No. 21, included advanced features such as a powered landing gear, folding wings and adjustable pitch propellers. And, again, that he was also the first to land a plane on water. But all the pilots of the world and even the last of the schoolboys knows that the Wright Brothers were the first to fly a motorised aeroplane and, for this reason, they are considered the very pioneers in the history of aviation.
Then, how actually are the things? Why with all of these facts supporting an important place in the Aviation History, can he be virtually unknown?
Of the first flight of the aircraft N. 21, designed and constructed in 1901 in Connecticut by the Bavarian Gustav Weisskops (subsequently Whitehead), only testimonies of dead persons remain, but no photographic documentation in flight, gone destroyed. Perhaps this, with other complex and also incredible reasons, can only partially justify the total absence of this pioneer of aviation from the history of flight. But all those who, more or less in good faith, have for years questioned about Weisskopf’s seriousness and about the capability of his aircraft to actually fly, must now start reconsidering their position because a full scale replica has recently flown with success, thus demonstrating that Weisskop’s perceptions and his design choices made sense indeed !
A group of fellow-citizens of the ignored German designer had set up, twenty years ago, a Committee (Historical Flight Research Committee Gustav Weisskopf) dedicated to ...render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. The aim of the Committee is in fact to research and to make public the facts about Weißkopf´s life, activities and work, and to place him into that niche of Aviation History into which he rightfully belongs. Their aim is also to demonstrate that the brothers Wright, with their flight in 1903, should be considered only the second ones.
Through long and laborious searches the Committee has collected all the documentation (not rich indeed) on the Weisskopf personage and his numerous inventions, collecting it tidily in a small but evocative museum at Leutershausen, its native place. All this would remain confined at level of nostalgic commemoration if a more meaningful and perhaps conclusive initiative had not been undertaken : to construct a flying replica of the flying machine No.21 . The task has been carried out by the constructor Friz Bruder , upon initiative of the aforementioned Committee, in the course of two years of intense work.
Equally demanding has been the experimental phase, that has held engaged a group of professionals experimenters in the course of the past four years. After structural static tests, trials of progressive difficulty have been completed, beginning from taxiings towed by car, without pilot. Then taxiings under motor followed , concluding with the classics jumps and, finally, with the flight.
In 1996 man-carrying auto-towed flights were performed with the "No. 21" replica, and in 1997 pilot-controlled motorised flights were successfully achieved. With this it is now provable, that the technology used by Weißkopf was suitable for flight. Furthermore it was proven, that his flying machine "No. 21" had the technical requirements for controlled flights, thus giving more strength to the statements of witnesses.
Also in this case, like reported by the witnesses of 97 years ago, flight consisted of a 500 meters distance at an height of about ten. Responsible of the trials has been the test pilot Horst Philipp, belonging to the experimental group of the Luftwaffe near military base WTD61 of Manching (the same airport on which Daimler Benz Aero Space carries out their test flights).
A puzzle " nearly " complete...
The members of the Historical Flight Research Committee Gustav Weisskopf pursue since more than twenty years the primary objective to demonstrate the seriousness of Weisskopf, in spite of an unfavourable destiny and of the numerous denigrators that for long time have ridiculed this pioneer.
A second objective to which the Committee heads with great engagement is to obtain the acknowledgement of the supremacy in the History of aeronautics for the motorised flight , but with conscious knowledge of the difficulties to face; it is in fact clear how deeply-rooted is the reputation of the Wright brothers in the world. The Committee fully recognises the importance of the Wright for having taught to the world the technique of flight, by carrying the machine " aeroplane " to a level of maturity such to produce the propagandistic and trailing effect that all know. For several reasons, between which also some ill-fated circumstances of the life, the contributions that Weisskopf gave to the Aeronautical progress have proven to be much less meaningful. The Committee, although aware of this, intends however to promote the proper acknowledgement to the inventiveness of Weisskopf, its temporal supremacy and a corrected positioning in the History of the primordial of the aeronautics, without null removing from the Historical importance of the Wright. The tenacity is one characteristic of this group of valid persons, serious and determined, never releasee.
Not being available photographs that show the aircraft N.21 in flight, the committee is trying to assemble a sort of puzzle, step by step, by collecting and connecting a series of dispersed pieces of truth. The recent flight has added numerous pieces to their puzzle, but some still lacks before completion of the overall figure is done. On the base of photographs, outlines and descriptions of the original motors , in fact, they have been constructed also three working replicas, that are in course of captive tests at the Fachhochschule Giessen-Friedberg. The tests have the objective to demonstrate the capacity of the propulsive units to develop the necessary power for flight. Such propulsion units , however, will not be installed on board of the flying replica, due to their dangerousness. The gas generated on board to power the two cylinders of each motor was in fact acetylene, added with hydrogen peroxide (the common oxygenated water, that at the times of Weisskopf the women already used for bleaching their hair) in a proportion which is not known; this produce highly detonating characteristics... It is not clear in which way the installed gas generator actually worked, but certainly allowed a limited autonomy. It also remain to estimate the characteristics of the propellers of Weisskopf, with pitch variable by steps on the ground.
The three motors operate , respectively , the two propellers and the wheels of the front undercarriage. In the intentions of Weisskopf this had to favour the take off acceleration . By observing the unfavourable shape of the used propellers it is not strange that he did his best to get a trust contribution from the undercarriage too. How much this solution turned out profitable is all to understand, nevertheless it has to be considered that, at the time this gentleman was operating , he was just opening the path and was, practically, the representative of... the state of the art: let’s bow before him !
Interesting is the original idea to share the gas on the three motors during the taxiing and concentrating it only on those connected to the propellers in the phases of flight. Propellers were counterrotating, and not by chance: the aircraft, in fact, considerably inspired to the shape of the birds, did not possess rudder and entrusted the directional control with the lateral deflection of the tailplane (like for the birds). The asymmetry of flow on the tail units produced by co-rotating propellers would have been therefore difficult to be contrasted.
The flight of the replica took place under the push of two two-strokes Chotia motors , single cylinder, 460cc, equipped of propellers in wood of 1,27 m diameter. The propulsive apparatus, therefore, is not representative of the original one neither, according to the intentions of the committee, it will ever be. The aircraft, in fact, having carried out a flight similar to that of Weisskopf, will not be subject of additional tests although it has demonstrated a satisfactory controllability and ability to further climb up and to extend the flight. Their objective, in fact, was that to reply " that " very flight. Now the aircraft will be transferred into the small museum of Leutershausen, at the third floor of a granary of the six hundred, wonderfully restored.
On recent 18th February, with the official roll-out of N.21 and the presentation to the press, the last and perhaps more difficult phase of the operation begun, that of convincing the public opinion and the Aeronautical world about the validity of these tests. It will not be easy that all this directly implies the official acknowledgement of the absolute supremacy in the history of the motorised flight, but certainly one will hear talking in the future about this incredible story which for such a long time has been kept buried; the question marks that every aeronautics fan will spontaneously raise, in front of these interesting discoveries, are in fact numerous.
First of all:
Who was Gustav Weisskopf ?
Fascinated with flight as a young man, he tinkered with many different aspects of flight, including balloons, kites, and parachutes. He watched birds in flight, built and patented a hang glider, built engines, experimented with fuels, and was an inventor of an incredible variety of innovations which ultimately led to (the very first ?) powered flight by man.
Son of Carl Weisskopf, a carpenter, Gustav Weisskopf is born in Leutershausen, in Bavaria, on 1st January 1874; during his early youth and part of his primary school time he lives in Hoechst/Main. At the age of 13 Weißkopf is orphaned when he is taken in by his grandparents in Ansbach. At the age of fourteen years he breaks off an apprenticeship and is trained as a mechanic. He then travels to Hamburg where in 1888 he is compulsorily boarded like ship-boy on an Australian sailing ships. It seems it was quite frequent, in those years, the case of young strong people that, having been so incautious to enter a pub of a port, were doped and transported onto a ship . They used to wake-up in the open see, forced to earn their life working hard like ship-boys. (Curious the term " Shanghaied ", used to indicate just this sort of kidnapping, particularly frequent in the area of Shanghai).
He then spends some years in sea, learning all on masts, shrouds, winds and squalls, soon demonstrating a great interest for the flight of the aquatic birds. Close to the end of his short sailor’s career he returns for a short period to Germany with the aim to make visit to the brothers Lilienthal.
Of these Otto had just published the book " the flight of the birds as a base for the art of the flight " while Gustav Lilienthal had just returned from a quinquennial permanence in Australia where Lawrence Hargrave had publicly presented in Sidney some flying models. In 1894 the first American flying club was founded. In England a certain Mr. Phillips had patented curved profiles and from France news on the vapour aircraft of Ader were arriving. During these years of transition from the theory to the practice of flight , Weisskopf decides to emigrate to the United States where he tries to naturalise by changing his name from Weisskopf to Whitehead. For the talented young man, the Unites States seems to have the best prerequisite to realise his ideas about the art of flying.
In 1895 he is in Boston and, on behalf of the local air club, he constructs an ornithotter and a glider inspired to that of Lilienthal; this last one, contrarily in the previous one, succeeds to fly as several photographs (exposed in the museum) demonstrate. Thanks to an instinctive and not common manual ability, he dedicates himself to the design and the realisation of a number of inventions ; in the ' 97 he is engaged by the Horsman manufacturer, on behalf of whom he realises gliders, aircraft models and motors. At this point he develops the idea to equip one of his gliders with a motor. In the meantime he gets married in Buffalo with a German girl of Hungarian origin, Louisa Tuba. In matrimonial documents, under the heading of " profession " he proposes himself as " Aeronaut ".
In the library of Buffalo he finds some books and magazines on the new-born aviation from which, evidently, he draws new enthusiasm for his studies, always facing with the difficult task to combine his technical interest with the economic requirements of the family. The birth of the first-born forces him in fact to temporary abandon aviation for concentrate on surer and profitable activities; therefore he has to accept a full time job in a coalmine in Pittsburg. Nevertheless, in 1999, he succeeds to construct an aeroplane propelled by a steam motor. During a test, one does not know if voluntarily or not, he happens to get airborne together with his " stoker " as passenger ( who then will testify on the event...).
The covered distance is not known, but the height was not negligible, if one considers that the test concluded against the wall of one mansion, at the height of the third floor... Weisskopf comes out unharmed while his stoker has to spend some time in hospital because scalded by the steam came out during the crash. The steam motor of Weisskopf is then put into production and sold for several successful applications. In 1900 he finds a job like mechanic in the industrial small town of Bridgeport, in Connecticut, while the police still looks for him in Pittsburg because of his... dangerous experiments.
In Bridgeport he finds greater understanding in his more generous neighbours and in the local police, thus continuing to improve himself in the construction of flying machines, balloons, hang gliders, parachutes and , above all, patenting several types of motor. In June 1901 the magazine " Scientific American " speaks about his inventions in aeronautics. According to witnesses, two months later Weisskopf independently realises the first true motor flight in the world , taking off and landing without incidents with his aeroplane N. 21, covering the distance of approximately five hundred meters at 10-15 meters height. The supporters of Weisskopf, today, emphasise the fact that, still for some years, all the demonstrations of flight carried out by others will take place by means of catapults or from hills in presence of strong winds.
Sure of being on the right way, Weisskopf concentrates on the subject for him more attractive, the motor. If he had been more enterprising economically , he could have been living wealthy by selling his motors for aeroplane. Unfortunately, instead, he does not succeed to put to profit his undoubted abilities as constructor of motors, often exiting in loss from his commercial attempts or unfortunate efforts to implant entrepreneurial societies. Therefore in a few cases only he succeeds to secure with licence his realisations and to receive out of them a reasonable economic return.
In 1901 he is said to have carried out the first water landing in the history and develops the first diesel motor for aeronautical use. In January 1902 several american newspaper talk about another flight , carried out with aircraft N.22, covering a distance on a closed circuit of approximately 11km at a height of around sixty meters. In October 1904 Prof. John J. Dvorak, professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis, states publicly that Weisskopf is further ahead in the development of heavier-than-air machines than other individuals working on them. In 1905 one of his sponsors applies together with him , for a patent on a glider; his motors are wellknown, often unfortunately under the name of his numerous creditors, are displayed, offered in catalogues and built into aeroplanes of other manufacturers. Amongst very known aviators who will subsequently use Weisskopf’s motors there will be also the famous Curtiss.
During this time Weisskopf sees other aviation pioneers receive the credit he doesn’t strive for, but deserves.
In 1911 he tries without success to realise an helicopter : he his constrained, in his designer’s freedom, by the choices of his employers .Someone else who is building a helicopter, however, is interested in one of his motors. At this point he still meets numerous difficulties due to his entrepreneurial incautiousness that, even, carry him to lose a case with most serious economic consequences. Being unable to pay the amount of the judgement, the court orders the sale of his complete workshop equipment. From here the sad conclusion of his aeronautical activity. His laboratory is in fact confiscated and great part of his drawings and tools get lost.
The negative trend is by now irreversible. Lost an eye in a work- related incident and mined in his health Weisskopf does not succeed to recover any longer. He never succeeds to obtain the American citizenship , always remaining in an ambiguous and unfortunate situation, dying of infarct at the age of fifty-three ; he leaves one small house constructed by himself and eight dollars to the family. He is then buried in a graveyard for indigent people , identified with a stone and a simple number, without the name, neither that German name that, in those years, could be suspicion to the eyes of the Roosveltians ,nor the American one , never legalised , disliked in native land.
To Caesar what is of Caesar...
In 1937 the American journalist Stella Rundolph, by chance got aware and become curious about this story, publishes a first book on Weisskopf and succeeds to have a monument in the United States erected in honour of Weisskopf. Unfortunately she has no aeronautical competence and, although she founds and presents unambiguous witnesses, she interprets many facts with a such approximation and inserting also rough errors on the technical facts, to quite produce not to only scepticism but in some cases negative reactions from part of the aeronautical public opinion .
In 1963 major William O' Dwyer, officer of the Reserve United States Air Force, discovers some unknown photos of the aeroplane of Weisskops, establishes a profitable relationship of collaboration with Stella Rudolph and begins an organic search on the Weisskopf personage and the reasons of the dusk descent on his realisations.
Thanks to these efforts in 1964 the Connecticut recognises " Whitehead " as pioneer of local aviation ; he is honoured posthumously by his chosen home state of Connecticut. His grave receives a worthy headstone. In 1978 Stella Rudolph and William O' Dwyer collect all the testimonies and the documents available, publish a new documentary volume under the title " History by contract , the beginning of motorised aviation" that, although today difficult to be found, represents an extraordinary history document of aviation.
In the light of the recent demonstrative flight carried out with the replica of the aircraft, it appears even more reasonable the questions how is it possible that such a " pioneer of aviation” is practically disowned?
One of the reasons is by sure the lack of photographic documentation that cannot show N.21 IN FLIGHT. It seems that Weisskopf was not preoccupied a lot of the aspects related to his image, being more interested in the technical result of his inventions than in the opportunity of spreading around the information on his achievements. He mainly operated alone or with a few collaborators, being conditioned also by economic limitations. Unfortunately just the rarity of the photos of the aircraft in flight has been the cause of their destruction. While in fact the less " precious " photos, taken on ground, are still available, those in flight had been safeguarded by a person who packed them "properly” between layers of fabric, unfortunately humid, that in the years rendered unusable the plates.
Another alarming clue is proposed by the responsables of the small museum recently inaugurated in honour of Gustav Weisskopf. Enclosed in a glass case is a copy of an agreement between the Smithsonian Institution and the estate of the Wright Brothers, which gives over to the Smithsonian various artifacts, and binds the Smithsonian from doing anything which would cast any shadow of doubt that the Wrights were the first to fly, thus protecting the estate of the Wrights. A very suspiciously self-serving contract indeed! The question rises in fact spontaneous: " for which reason so many precautions? What could the Wright brothers fear of ? ".
It can be understood that one be incredulous in front of these amazing facts but who is interested to deepen the subject and to consult the documentation available, he would be inexorably at least captured by the doubt... and now there is also a flying machine, that flies.
Who wants to know more can read the interesting documents review and sworn testimonies collection assembled by William J. O' Dwyer and Stella Rudolph in the course of thirty years in the volume " History by contract " (And Fritz Meyer & Sohn) (the " contract " about which the authors speak is that between Wright and Smithsonian);
For the laziest people it is possible to connect with the Internet site of the museum :
Most adventurous and passionate ones can instead personally go to Leutershausen, close to Nuremberg, and visit
Aviation Pioneer Gustav Weißkopf Museum and Museum of Local History,
Phone: +49 9823 951-0, FAX: +49 9823 951-50
Opening hours: From Easter till end of October daily, except Saturday, from 10.00 a.m. to 12.00 noon.
On Wednesday and Sunday also from 2.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m.
Please phone or fax for special arrangements.
The museum gives an insight into Weißkopf´s/Whitehead´s pioneering deeds and achievements as an early aviator, and will answer the question why he had almost fallen into complete oblivion.
With an introductory film (may be bought as a video), a contemporary and documentary photo collection, documents, books, periodicals, reports and models, with a working motor replica, and - last not least- with a full scale flown replica of Weißkopf´s flying machine "No. 21" the visitor of the museum is being led through the life and work of Weißkopf.
By the way: The Aviation Pioneer Gustav Weißkopf Museum and the interesting Museum of Local History belong and work together. The latter takes the visitors into the era of our forefathers and shows their way of life, skills and trades.
The reception that one reaches in the small town of Leutershausen pleases and raises enthusiasm both in the fan of aviation and in the person who can appreciate the serene climate of a mediaeval atmosphere still uncontaminated. A large nest of storks dominates on the ancient building where the Fire brigade’s local detachment is located. As soon as one crosses one of the two turrite doors of income to the historical centre of the town a beautiful park is present, which hosts the monument to Weisskopf: it consists of his airplane No.21 that, in actual size, is supported at a relevant height in flight position.The most significant moments of the short life of Weisskopf are also reported on the marble pedestal. The museum is located in a splendid six floors construction of the six hundred, an ancient restored granary.
The FFGW, that since twenty years undertakes initiatives in favour of Weisskopf, counts today on approximately one hundred members. Most active and determined are Hermann Betscher (first President) and Matthias Lechner (Vice- President), supported by Fritz Bruder, constructor of the flying replica. It is worth to mention that, surprisingly, only Fritz Bruder, in the past constructor of gliders and mechanical engineer, has an aeronautical culture, contrarily the other members of the Committee. This can be a further reason of the limited amount of news about Weisskopf in the aeronautical world. Even more it is therefore stimulating to help them in enlarging Weisskopf’s story knowledge within the aeronautical environment.
The replica of Weisskopf’s No. 21 aircraft
The replica of the aircraft will be exhibited public in the Berlin Aeronautical display (ILA) before being definitively exposed in the museum. Once transferred into the dedicated room of the museum through a tight window, the members of the leading group do not mean to move it more.
Today only a series of photographs of the aircraft N21 exists, fortunately enough clear , as well as some sketches. In addition there are also some testimonies of people who witnessed his exploits. Most interesting are those given by Weisskopf’s assistant, who had been interviewed on the purpose of history before he died. On these bases, with a patient and laborious engagement of several persons specialised in several fields, the reconstruction of the design drawings of his aircraft has been carried . A considerable contribution in this result has been supplied by Herb Kelly, an aeronautical engineer who, resuming a technical photographic methodology developed for the Pentagon (geometric method of fading angles) during the second world war, allows to analyse photographs for graphically obtaining synthetic images which can be further transformed into designs perspective. Developments deriving from such technique have been profitably carried out by means of the digital technologies and are today very popular also in the environment of automobiles crash analysis and of aircraft flight tests.
The initiative, conducted in tight collaboration with the Committee of Leutershausen, had been undertaken by a group of American technicians of several companies like Boeings, Sikorsky, Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed. These constituted a group called " Hangar 21 "and in 1986 constructed a basic replica of N.21 which was presented at Oshkosh; they carried out only some leaps on the runway, but their work gave encouragement to the German committee to construct a more faithful replica . Without the technical contribution of this qualified group of specialists, very unlikely the faithful reconstruction of the aircraft would have been possible. The specialists experiences ranged from V2 to the nuclear submarines nevertheless they have been evidently fascinated by the romantic attraction of this adventure.
Reassuming, therefore, here the characteristics of the aircraft N21 B (where " B2 means " replica ") : (the reader will comprise that some terms, due to the peculiarities of the aircraft, can seem... curious)
In order to pursue the maximum credibility the committee decided , for testing the aircraft, to look for a group of " external " professionals who could guarantee to be free from any possible suspicion of being party-men. Of course it was necessary to find someone capable of doing the job with the proper attitude, a person interested in doing something so challenging , unusual and stimulating . The generous tester pilot who gave his availability , together with a team of experimenter specialists, is Horst Phillip, former test pilot of the Luftwaffe at the experimental military centre WTD61 of Manching.
The agreement from the very beginning was that the pilot would have carried out the tests writing up, from time to time, a report that would have been rendered public, whatever the actual outcome of the trials.
The tests have been developed in the period of four years, on the long runway of Manching; being that at Manching an official test centre, numerous operational constraints allowed for a limited rate of experimentation only. Test have been progressive, adding complexity (and risk) only after previous assessment of correct behaviour. A chronological list of events is hereinafter presented, as described in the official report of the pilot:
Perhaps that was the best way to... render to Weisskopf what was of Weisskopf. than... to
|OTHER ARTICLES OF ASI JUNE'98 ISSUE|
| News In Brief | Letters To The Editor | World Records |
| 1998 Free Flight World Cup |
| Flying With The Birds |
| Baltic Cup 1998 |
| Some Rare Kind Of Guts |
| Did He Actually Fly Before The Wright Brothers ? |
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