I Have Today Seen Wilbur Wright and his Great White Bird

The airplane debuted to rave reviews.

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“The Wright machine is astonishing in its simplicity not to say apparent crudity of detail—it is almost a matter of surprise that it holds together. The Voisin machine has at least some pretensions to be considered an engineering job.”

—Aerodynamics expert Frederick Lanchester of England

THE TWILIGHT YEARS Both of the brothers loved the process of invention more than the business of capitalizing on their success. Just three years after Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912 at the age of 45, Orville quit his job as the president of their airplane manufacturing company. Without his brother Wilbur around to argue with, life just didn’t seem as stimulating for Orville, who attended as few public functions as possible.

“Strange to look at this quiet, mild gray-headed man and to realize that he is the one who flew the plane at Kitty Hawk on the December day.”

—Charles Lindbergh’s impression of Orville Wright in 1939, when Orville was 68

LOOKING BACK We all have our own personal aviation history: The first time we flew in an airplane or watched a jet leave a trail overhead. Betty Wright Strother, 97, has memories that rise above such standard fare. She was on hand for two of aviation’s most significant events. In December 1941, she was living in Pearl Harbor, where her husband was stationed, when the Japanese attacked.

“Some planes came overhead and I was about to call the field and tell them they were being careless with their planes,” she says. “But then that first plane bombed the house about three blocks from us.”

Thirty-two years earlier, Betty and her parents had been in the crowd that gathered at Fort Myer when Orville Wright (no relation) flew.

“Whenever something of interest came up, my mother and father got us inter-ested too, so that was the case on us going over there and seeing that plane. We went in a horse and buggy.

“The main thing that stuck in my mind at the time was those big dusters—you know, those overcoats—and how as he started to get into the plane he had to wrap it around himself. I remember him getting into the plane and just taking off.”

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