A replica of Gustave Whitehead’s No. 21, on display at the Connecticut Air and Space Center in Stratford. (Photo by John Kovach)
What we have here is a challenger to the claim of first man in the air on a self propelled airplane. The Wright brothers and Mr. Whitehead both have their supporters and detractors. It seems unlikely that it will ever be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. Gustav built a number of airplanes and engines but for one reason or another never made a success of it. A while back some people built and flew a replica, so the design could have flown. However, they used a modern engine, and being as building an engine that was powerful enough and light enough was the big stumbling block to getting your machine airborne, it doesn't really tell us much.
This machine has some interesting features. The wings are designed to fold. Their construction is similar to an oriental fan, and they fold the same way, i.e. the ribs fold back along the side. The compound engine burns acetylene (probably derived from calcium carbide, much like a miner's lamp) and (near as I can tell) the crankshafts are mounted out by the propellers, which means that those rods extending from the engine are not spinning driveshafts but reciprocating connecting rods.