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Editorial: Let’s be clear: Flight originated in North Carolina

North Carolina and Ohio have long sparred over “First in Flight” bragging rights.  Now arrives an upstart. Connecticut claims in a bill moving through its Statehouse that one Gustave Whitehead flew a “powered, heavier than air machine.”  Granted, that sounds like an airplane.  Wright Brothers proponents in both the Tar Heel and Buckeye states say Wilbur and Orville flew a true airplane “because it brought together lift, control and thrust systems for the first time,” according to the Associated Press.  The only photographic record of a pre-1903 “flight” by Whitehead is a fuzzy image of what appears to be a pea-shelling machine with big butterfly wings.  The sharp image of the Wright Brothers first flight clearly shows an airplane in flight, with Orville at the controls and Wilbur running alongside. It was taken by John T. Daniels, a brave member of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, forerunner of the Coast Guard.
This new Connecticut assertion has had the odd effect of uniting the Tar Heel and Buckeye states against a common foe.
Ohio state Rep. Rick Perales, who sponsored a competing piece of legislation challenging the Connecticut measure, said Ohio and North Carolina are teaming up to champion the Wright brothers’ claim.  In fact, the Christian Science Monitor reported in 2003 — the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ flight — that Ohio and North Carolina had largely put aside their rivalry.  “In Dayton, they proved that powered flight was practical; at Kitty Hawk, they proved that it was possible,” according to a 2003 quote in that newspaper by Bob Petersen, a park ranger at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.
Here in North Carolina, we know a thing or two about aviation history.
Piedmont Airlines, an airline that was actually beloved by its passengers, made its maiden flight from Wilmington to Cincinnati on Feb. 20, 1948. The airline was based in Winston-Salem but had maintenance facilities in Wilmington. Operating as a mail carrier as well as a passenger airline, it served smaller airports such as Rocky Mount, Southern Pines, Fayetteville and Kinston.
Piedmont became part of U.S. Airways in 1989, and that airline continues to serve the state with flights both nationally and internationally.
With our special place in aviation history, we welcome Connecticut’s entry into the battle for air history supremacy. But clearly it was that 1903 flight on a cold Kitty Hawk day that launched the age of aviation, an era that has culminated in the modern age with such advances as shoe searches and body scanners.
North Carolina is first in flight. We always will be.
A version of this editorial first appeared in the Wilmington Star News, a Halifax Media Group newspaper.