Because You Asked . . .     

Foster Lane with his Waco 9 in 1987 - photo by Jennie Kavage

Local Barnstormer Became Aviation Pioneer

Ohio is considered the father of aviation with the birthplaces of the Wright brothers, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and many other aviators and astronauts.  We have our own aviator pioneer, Foster Lane.   

My father, Bill Whitney, thought if God had wanted man to fly, we would be born with wings.  Foster and Bill had been good friends in school so Foster convinced Bill to go flying.  Bill told me he was so scared he sat on the floor and held his camera up to take a picture when Foster told him to shoot.  Bill did fly once more but in spite of his friendship with Foster, he preferred cars or trains.

Born in 1903 in Fargo, the only child of Albert and Jennie Foster and grandson of John and Suzanne Spearman Lane of England and Olive Green, Foster Albert Lane grew up on a farm on the south side of Centerburg Road.  He attended the one room Lane School just west of his home where Uncle John Lane with a handlebar mustache was his teacher.

For two years, Foster attended Sunbury High School riding to school in a horse and buggy and renting a third floor room of a house on South Columbus Street  when it was too bad to return home.  He remembered the low ceiling with the hanging light where he managed to bump his head regularly.  However high school was not giving Foster the education he wanted so over his parents' protests he left high school and enrolled in a trade school in Detroit.  While the school mostly taught about automobiles, they did have a few airplane engines.

After trade school, Foster got a job in Cleveland.  While he was home visiting his family, he stopped in to see his cousin, Justin Lane, who owned an automobile agency and garage in Condit where he overheard a salesman say, "Had a ride in an airplane and it was the greatest experience I ever had."  The salesman went on to say that if he were younger, he'd get into that business as aviation will be big some day.  The  seed was planted.

Foster and Dean Lane located a barnstormer between Springfield and Dayton in 1925.  That ride in a Curtiss JN4 was all it took to convince Foster to be a  pilot.  Foster took flying  lessons and in 1928, a year after Lindberg crossed the Atlantic, Lane bought his first airplane, a Waco 9 formerly used as a mail plane out of Pittsburg.  He flew the plane for a year and a half them sold it.  Sixty years later he bought the same plane and put it on display in the Ohio History of Flight museum.  Foster was pleased that it was still flyable.

Lane became a barnstormer all over Ohio.  He would find a good field near a town and look up the farmer to see if he could give rides from his field.  If the farmer had a fence on the roadside he would probably say no as the people would break down the fence climbing over to get to the plane.  However many were glad for the entertainment which sometimes included wing walkers and other stunt men.  The late Clarence Hancock told Kavage he paid Lane $5 to give Clarence and his girlfriend a ride at the Hartford Fair.  He had also ridden with Lane from a field between Rich Hill and Centerburg.

Foster went on a blind date in Cleveland and met the love of his life, Ruth Potter of East Cleveland.  Ruth was a secretary of a monument plant.  They put off marriage until June 30, 1933, so they could honeymoon at the Chicago World's Fair.  When they returned, Foster had lost his job, so he became a salesman.  On a trip to Columbus he noticed the airport and saw the opportunities so in a leap of faith, they moved to Columbus. 

In 1935 Foster began his flying service in an open cockpit biplane purchased with Ruth's money.  They began giving flying lessons.  Two years later they purchased an enclosed cabin plane.  Flying lessons taught Foster to always look for forced landing fields. Early planes frequently had trouble and it was necessary to land quickly.  Once the engine stopped and he was forced down in a field near Johnstown.

The Lanes had two children, a son and a daughter.  They lost their son, Bruce, to a brain tumor at the age of 16.  Their daughter, Donna Earl, is still with Lane Aviation.  She married Ted Earl and they have 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren.  Foster taught Donna's daughter Stastia Earl Wing to fly and she worked her way up from late night cleaning to the difficult position of ramp dispatcher.  Although she took time off from the industry to raise her family, Donna sees her returning someday.

Foster, 92, died in 1995 and Ruth in 2000 and are buried in Columbus.  Donna shared some memories of her parents with me.

During the 1950s, Ruth and Foster would pick up new Cessna airplanes in Kansas and fly them to the buyers.  One time they were taking a plane to South America over Panama and had to land on a banana plantation in Panama.  Instead of being upset about their landing, the natives brought out food and music and treated them like royalty.

Another flight brought them down in New Guinea where they were met by headhunters complete with blowpipes.  The natives did allow their pictures to be taken with the new plane.

The Lanes flew all over the world delivering planes - Africa, Europe, South America but Ruth's favorite was flying to Argentina over the Andes Mountains.  It was important to fly in a pass through the mountains and once one started into the pass, their was no turning back.  On the morning they went through the pass, the sun was shining on the mountains and the picturesque sight was one of Ruth's favorites.

As Foster predicted, Columbus International Airport has grown with Lane Aviation as one of the premier fixed base operators running a charter service, selling and servicing Cessnas and provides fuel, service and hangar space. For 8 years they've also have an operation at Rickenbacker International Airport.  Lane Aviation employs 130 people.

One of Lane's pet projects was the founding in 1982of the Ohio History of Flight Museum at Port Columbus.  Unfortunately, the airport needed the space so a few years ago the assets of the museum were given to the Ohio Historical Society as a nucleus for the future Ohio transportation museum.

CORKS (Central Ohio's Radio Control Club) and Community Library are celebrating Ohio's part in aviation next weekend.  Saturday everyone is invited to "A Day at the Sticks" at the airfield 7 miles north of Sunbury on State Route 3 to see a demonstration and learn how to fly the planes.  A special plane is scheduled to make an appearance.  The free family event is part of the Big Walnut Area Bicentennial Celebration.

Jennie Kavage wrote a  feature about Foster for The Sunbury News in 1987.  The photo was taken by her for her article. Both of us are using Foster's book, "Log Book." 

. . . .And Now You Know
by Polly Horn


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(04/01/2006 )

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