Two Legends of Flight

First in Flight - Monument to Gastave Whitehead, Bridgeport CT
First in Flight - Monument to Gastave Whitehead, Bridgeport CT

In Bridgeport, Sirkowski Aircraft is king of industry - churning out the Blackhawk helicopters that have taken such a prominent role in America's 21st century wars. From the shores of the Housatonic one can catch an occasional sight of the presidential helicopter in for servicing.  Sirkowski is well located, at the place where man first took to the skies - and no, it wasn't the Wright Brothers

John Gillespie Magnee, Jr

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I have trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God

-High Flight by John Gillespie Magnee, Jr

John Magnee Jr is an alumni of Avon Old Farms School in Avon, Connecticut.  He turned down a scholarship to Yale and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 1940, at age 19, he was killed over England when his Spitfire plane collided with an instructors plane.  He had written "High Flight" two months prior. His gravestone is inscribed "Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."

First in Flight

First in Flight - Monument to Gastave Whitehead, Bridgeport CT
Monument to Gustave Whitehead, Bridgeport Connecticut
A few blocks from my home in Blackrock, is this memorial to the first manned flight which took place in Bridgeport Connecticut near the airport in Lordship. At least, that is the claim - and it is a claim chiseled in stone "First in Flight".

In 1901, a German immigrant named Gastave Whitehead flew his "aircraft 21" in a 50 foot controlled flight. An article in the Bridgeport Herald documented the flight on August 18th, 1901.  This predates the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty hawk NC by two years.

There is controversy, of course. Mainly because the director of the Smithsonian - who was also attempting the first flight - looked at "aircraft 21" and deemed it unfit for flight. However, in the 1980's replicas were built and successfully flown.

If this is the site of the first flight, this monument is significantly smaller and less impressive than the monolith in Kitty Hawk which stands upon a large hill. I have driven past this fountain several times before I noticed it. But, in case you want to pay homage - it is a quick two block diversion off I-95 on Fairfield Avenue at the corner of State Street. You will know you are there when you see the McDonalds.