Well, that was embarrassing …

Ohio and North Carolina compete to claim the honor of inventing the airplane. While the Wright brothers Orville and Wilbur were from Ohio, their first flight took place in North Carolina in 1903. In support of their state’s claim, the state of Ohio issued a license plate showing their plane carrying a banner that said “Ohio Birthplace of Aviation”.

Unfortunately for them, their image had the plane backwards so that it seemed to be actually pushing the banner. That really would be a first.

North Carolina took the chance to tweak Oho by suggesting that they should be forgiven since they were not there when the flight occurred.

Ohio has said that it will scrap the plates already issued and provide new ones with the plane facing the correct direction.

One can understand the error. The design of the Wright’s plane is unusual by today’s standards. What looks like a tail wing or rudder is actually at the front and the pilot lay on the wing facing it.

1903 Wright Flyer (A19610048000) at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. February 27, 2017. Smithsonian photo by Eric Long (A19610048000.3T8A5578) (NASM2018-10793)

Actually, it is not clear that either state can make the claim to being the first in flight since there are historians who say that that first flight did not meet the criteria set at that time. Other claimants are Alberto Santos-Dumont of Brazil and Gustave Whitehead of Connecticut.

I find that pretty much any claim in science or technology to be the ‘first’ to achieve something can be disputed. What can be justified is that before some date X, it had not been achieved and after some date Y, it had. In between, there is usually much activity involving many people. This is because few new ideas in science and technology appear out of the blue. A climate has been created in which many people were working on the same problem with varying degrees of success and who was first depends upon the criteria that are chosen.


  1. DonDueed says

    To be overly pedantic, that structure in front isn’t the rudder. It’s the horizontal stabilizer and elevator (in modern terms). The rudder is the vertical control surface behind the pilot.

  2. jrkrideau says

    These things happen. About 30 years ago, my province produced a 4- language trade brochure with the Japanese upside down.

    Last year my province recently introduced new car licence plate that photo radar cannot read and that the police report is almost impossible to read.

  3. Silentbob says

    Some “first”s seem pretty secure. I think Chuck Yeager, Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong can rest easy.

  4. brucegee1962 says

    Really, what the Wrights should probably get the most credit for was inventing the wind tunnel, so they could test designs without having to construct an entire aircraft.

  5. Ridana says

    As the saying goes, “The first American to fly a plane was from Ohio (went to NC), the first American to orbit the Earth was from Ohio, the first person on the moon was from Ohio. Just goes to show that Ohioans will do damn near anything to get out of Ohio.”

  6. says

    Ridana @8.

    Actually, Wilbur was born in Indiana but then the family moved to Ohio (where Orville was born). Which I guess goes to show that as bad as Ohio is, it’s still preferable to Indiana.

  7. flex says

    @6, Silentbob,

    While I think the records of Gagarin and Armstrong records are clear, Yeager’s record needs qualifiers to be accurate. Yeager was the first person to exceed the speed of sound in test conditions at level flight. Not something to be scoffed at, but Yeager is often known as the first person to exceed the speed of sound. Probably as a shorthand for his actual achievement. There are records which suggest a number of pilots exceeding the speed of sound prior to Yeager’s achievement (usually in dives) but his flight was the first controlled and confirmed flight which exceeded the speed of sound. Again, I’m not trying to diminish Yeager’s accomplishment, but acknowledge that there were others.

    Of course, all three of these people had teams of hundreds of people supporting them. In some ways, you could say that the presence of a human being was minor compared to the technological advances necessary to make a craft exceed the speed of sound, to put a craft in orbit, and to land a craft on the moon and return.

    On the other hand, when I had a chance to shake Chuck Yeager’s hand in 1989, I didn’t refuse.

  8. birgerjohansson says

    Otto Lilienthal had recently died as a result of hia glider suffering a stall placing his tail with its controls in the turbulent “shadow” , making it impossible to recover from the ställ.
    Apparently both the Wright brothers and Santos-Dumont reacted by making a “backwards”- looking design.
    Other pioneers soon found a more practical remedy by a careful placement of the tail unit.

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