COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio’s new license plate “honors our past,” Gov. Mike DeWine said before unveiling it Thursday morning. But soon after, the state had to fix a historical inaccuracy.
Prominently featured on the top of the plate is the Ohio-native Wright Brothers’ first airplane — the Wright Flyer — pulling a red banner that says “Birthplace of Aviation.” In the original version shown to the public at a Thursday morning news conference, the banner flows in a way that signals the plane is flying to the left.
The problem was that the Wright Flyer is flying the wrong way.
“We are aware that the plane on the new Ohio license plate unveiled this morning was oriented in the wrong direction,” Ohio Department of Public Safety spokesperson Lindsey Bohrer said in a statement about four hours after the inaccurate plate was unveiled. “We regret this mistake and have fixed the image. This is the correct design that will be reflected on all new plates issued to Ohio drivers.”
An ‘easy mistake’ and ‘teachable moment’
When Orville and Wilbur Wright first flew their Wright Flyer on the beaches of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903, it was the first sustained flight by what is now considered an airplane. Because of how modern planes fly, one may instinctively look at the Wright Flyer and think the short, stubby end is the rear.
On the Dayton brothers’ famous plane, however, the stubby end was the front, as seen in this replica from a 2003 demonstration in North Carolina:
“It’s an easy mistake to make,” said Alex Heckman, vice president of museum operations at Dayton History, which runs the Wright Brothers National Museum.
The museum has an original Wright plane on exhibit, Heckman said, “and people will often walk into that hall thinking that they’re looking at the back of the plane, when in fact, they’re looking at the front of the plane.”
Orville Wright would lie on the wing and use wires to control the direction of the aircraft, explains a video from the North Carolina Transportation Museum. The tail of the plane, unlike what was shown on Ohio’s wrong license plate, is the tall piece behind the pilot’s feet. This rudder controls the left and right motion.
Ohio’s plate seemed to mistake the tail for the “elevators,” two horizontal pieces that allow the plane to change altitude.
The Wrights did their initial work and testing in Dayton before making their first sustained flight on the beaches of North Carolina, a state that claims “First in Flight” on one of its standard license plates above a silhouette of the Flyer.
Heckman said Ohio’s mistake was not surprising because it happens a lot, and his organization is “pleased to hear that the governor’s office is working hard to fix it right away.”
“If anything it’s a teachable moment for everybody involved,” he said, “because it helps the public understand that a Wright Flyer does not look exactly like a later aircraft does.”
Plate production already started
Colorful and packed with references, the “Sunshine in Ohio” plate was designed by Bureau of Motor Vehicles staff with direction from the governor and First Lady Fran DeWine, who wanted to showcase the state’s agriculture, nature, cities and flight history.
“We love Ohio’s heritage as the birthplace of aviation, so our newly designed plate reflects all of these,” Gov. DeWine said.
The creation of past plates tended to take a “considerable amount of time,” said Ohio BMV registrar Charlie Norman said, often over 1.5 years. The final design (with the plane mistake) was approved in April, part of a streamlined process at the BMV that Norman said took “less than half the time it has traditionally taken.”
Bohrer did not say what will happen to the incorrect plates that have already been made since manufacturing began earlier this month at Lebanon Correctional Facility. Norman said any leftover current license plates — the red, white and silver design on roads since 2013 — will be recycled.
The new plate goes into effect Dec. 29 for newly registered vehicles and people renewing registration. Drivers will also be able to switch their current plates with the new design by mail, online, or at their local BMV.