Whitehead advocate, researcher and author, USAF Reserve Major WIlliam J. O'Dwyer was a driving force in the attempt in the late 1960's and 1970's to have Gustave Whitehead recognized as being the first to fly.
He co-authored the Whitehead book History by Contract"
(1978) with pioneer Whitehead advocate, researcher and author Stella Randolph (Lost flights of Gustave Whitehead
1937; Before the Wrights Flew: The Story of Gustave Whitehead
1966; and co-author History by Contract"
O'Dwyer's daughter, Susan O'Dwyer-Brinchman, recently published the book Gustave Whitehead - First in Flight
, which draws heavily on her father's files and those of Ms. Randolph.
In a letter dated June 7, 1966, to famed British aviation historian and significant Whitehead critic, Charles Harvard Gibbs-Smith, Maj. O'Dwyer states some surprising positions, not the least of which is what he thought at that time of Whitehead's claims of having made a half-mile flight in 1901 and a 7-mile in 1902.
Far from supporting those absurd claims, he states his belief that Whitehead's machine, the No. 21
, didn't make those flights, and hence, also that Whitehead didn't make those flights in his No. 21
although he said he had.
"For my money, it never made a 1/2 mile or a 7 mile flight. I do however feel it made some short flights."
In essence, Maj. O'Dwyer is saying that Whitehead did not fly in 1901 (the supposed half-mile "flight") or in 1902 (the supposed 7-mile "flight").
O'Dwyer also draws a distinction between the "flights" - which he discounts - and other elements of the Whitehead story, saying…
"When I first stuck my little toe into this matter, I too had felt that Whitehead was indeed a charlatan. Now that I am in it up to my neck, most of the previous opinions have been proven wrong. This does not include the controversial flights. I speak solely of his overall perspective."
As for another of Whitehead's main supporters and associates, "Junius Harworth
," O'Dwyer states…
"When I began this research, only 6 or 7 pages of typewritten notes were available outside of Stella Randolph's first book. Upon reading the book, I too questioned the veracity of Harworth's statement. However some of his testimony must be accepted, as a thorough research in our Squadron has proven that many of his words were verbatim of the actual events. Not the flights, mind you, but other miscellaneous details."
So, he also believes Harworth was not telling the truth about the "flights."
Continuing about Harworth, O'Dwyer writes...
"I have read and re-read all of his correspondence to Miss Randolph. His statements do not have continuity in many areas and from time to time I found that his statements failed to correspond with previous remarks. Harworth in my mind was sincere in his effort to strive for recognition for Gustave Whitehead, but somewhere along the way, he has transplanted himself from just a youth around the shop to a full time partner in his association. Later in his teens (17 to 19) he did aid Whitehead as a form of an associate. But his memory of flights confuses me entirely."
"He was the main errand boy of the 1900-01 shop. He may easily recall various tasks Whitehead might have assigned him to, but as to being a 1st class associate, I cannot buy this at all. In my log I denounced his significance and wrote his testimony off as being un-reliable. This was done some 2 years ago. So basically we agree on this man. However, I reserve one additional remark. Where other research corroborates many of his statements as to details of shop tools, the making of the propellers, the various minute details of some of the #21 aircraft parts etc.., then I do feel that those statements hold considerable merit.. Like Peck's Bad Boy, he wasn't all bad at all."
O'Dwyer proposed wind tunnel testing of a modern 'replica' of Whitehead's No. 21
, to determine if that machine could have flown. Of course, without also utilizing the powerplant and propellers and other elements of the original, any modern 'replica' only broadly simulates that original, and, hence, only hints but does not answer the question whether the original No. 21
could have flown.
It is in that context, that Maj. O'Dwyer states "For my money, it never made a 1/2 mile or a 7 mile flight. I do however feel it made some short flights."