Wright Brothers’ niece recalls family stories
Lane’s extended family gathered every Sunday night telling stories about her uncles, who ran a bicycle shop, played practical jokes and, with undeviating focus, together took on the problem of manned, powered, controlled flight.
Family supported their flying experiments, but the neighbors were not convinced, Lane said.
“They thought the boys were really bright young men but believed they were wasting their time,” she said.
As the great grand niece of the Wright brothers, Lane has represented the family traveling the world since the 2003 centennial celebration of the firstflight on Dec. 17, 1903. She is a descendant of the duo’s older brother Lorin.
Lane was born in 1953, five years after Orville died. She listened to the family stories, especially those of her great aunt Ivonette Wright Miller, who knew the brothers well and in 1911 was one of the first female airplane passengers. Neither of the men ever married. Wilbur died in 1912 of typhoid fever. He was 45.
Wilbur was older and took things more seriously. Orville occasionally misbehaved and never graduated from high school. Each was brilliant, Lane said.
Wilbur and Orville would sit in the parlor of the family home,
prop their feet up on the same stool and debate principles such as the shape of a propeller. The debate would escalate into shouting before subsiding. The brothers would ponder each other’s ideas and change their minds. The debate would escalate again, this time with Wilbur arguing Orville’s point and Orville arguing Wilbur’s.
“They would go at it only as brothers could,” Lane said.
Orville had a precise lunch routine. He entered the back door at noon, placed his hat on a chair, ate one cracker and then sat and read until the housekeeper called him for lunch. He would leave and return minutes later to retrieve the bowler he’d left behind. The man who helped discover the secrets of manned flight could not remember his hat, Lane said.
Wilbur read extensively about gliding experiments around the world before telling Orville they should “add their might to others’ efforts.” The brothers were “afflicted” with solving the problem of flight.
Wilbur twisted the ends of a long, flat bicycle inner tube box in opposite directions to get inspiration for wing warping, a new means of flight control.
Orville loved to take things apart. When he took the box of parts back to the company, officials decided it would be easier to give him a new one.
He also appreciated a good practical joke.
Orville made a cockroach from tin with a string attached and set it under a plate. When Lane’s father, Wilkinson, who was a boy at the time, sat down to eat, Orville pulled the tin roach from under the plate, scaring him and nearly rendering him unable to finish the meal.
Lane has appeared on television and visited presidents, dignitaries and celebrity aviators such as Chuck Yeager and John Travolta. She came to the Outer Banks from her Cincinnati home to meet as a board member of the FirstFlight Foundation.
When Lane took the role as a family ambassador at the 2003 centennial celebration held at the Wright Brothers National Memorial, she saw nearly 40,
000 people gathered in the rain to see a Wright Flyer replica attempt to lift off.