Rodgers, Calbraith “Cal”
Dare DevilEnshrined 1964 1879-1912
On his transcontinental 1911 flight, Cal had to lay over in the tiny town of Kyle, Texas, as his crew waited for parts to repair the plane’s Vin Fiz engine. He had the crew assemble a Wright Model B and offered to take spectators for a ride. He had no takers at $5, a dollar or even fifty cents but an 11-year-old boy offered him a quarter. Cal hoisted Newt Milhollon into the passenger seat of the Model B and gave him back his quarter. “This one is a gift,” he told the boy. “A gift of flight, the sky and the wind. You will see your whole town and the fields around it. You will know a different world. Now that is a gift to remember.”
- Made a courageous and daring 4,000 mile transcontinental flight in 1911.
- Demonstrated the airplane’s potential for long distance travel and air commerce.
- Established the feasibility of transcontinental airmail service.
Calbraith Perry Rodgers made outstanding contributions to aviation by his courageous and daring four thousand mile transcontinental flight in 1911. Made against seemingly overwhelming odds of weather and mechanical malfunctions and failures, Rodgers demonstrated to the nation the potential of the airplane for long distance travel and air commerce, and established the feasibility of transcontinental airmail service.
Learning to fly in June 1911 at the Wright School at Simms Station, Dayton, Ohio, Rodgers participated in the first aerial photography of industrial plants. In August 1911, he won the $11,000 World’s Grand Endurance Aviation Contest in Chicago staying in the air for 27 hours at intervals over a period of nine days. Convinced of his flying capabilities, Rodgers interested sponsors in the commercial value of a transcontinental flight and named his Wright biplane the Vin Fiz after his sponsor’s new soft drink. He also sought to interest the Post Office department in the idea of airmail. Unsuccessful in this attempt, he initiated his own trans-continental airmail service, enlisting the aid of his wife as the world’s first airmail postmistress. His support team included a crew in a special three-car train full of extra parts, repair facilities and a touring car. Rodgers began his transcontinental flight from Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 17th, 1911 with a mail bag tied to the plane.
This was the first of sixty-eight separate flights to be made in the Vin Fiz in crossing the continent. He made landings in parks, pastures and prairies and take-offs from the same places. With railroad tracks as his guides, Rodgers wended his way westward and reached Chicago twenty days later. Here he suffered the first few of a series of sixteen major and near fatal crashes that he was to experience in his flight across the nation. Each time crew members carefully and expertly rebuilt the plane and Rodgers headed westward with the sun in his eyes. He weathered electrical storms in Oklahoma, and reached Kansas City on October 14th. His sponsors then directed him to divert his route to the more populous southwestern sections of the country. He arrived in Texas on October 17th, 1911, and eventually would take two weeks and twenty-nine stops to get across Texas. Over Imperial Junction, California, his engine exploded. Rodgers was injured by metal fragments, and he had to land. After usual major repairs he was off again and he reached Pasadena, California on November 5th, 1911.
With this triumph Rodgers had achiveved a great feat for the new discipline of aviation, and secured a place for himself in history. So many repairs had been made during the trip that of the original Vin Fiz only the rudder, the engine drip pan, and a single strut remained. Although his flight required forty-nine days to complete, on twenty-five of them Rodgers was unable to fly. His actual flying time was three days, ten hours, four minutes. The challenge for Rodgers was not yet over. On a short flight from Pasadena to Long Beach, California, he crashed and suffered serious injuries which delayed his attempt to reach the Pacific by a month. On December 10th, 1911, with his leg in a cast and his crutches tied to his plane, Rodgers took off and dipped his wheels in the Pacific, completing his goal. The “King of the Air,” as he was called, died tragically five months later when his plane crashed into the ocean at Long Beach on April 3rd, 1912.
Rodgers had truly contended against the sky at a time when every flight was still an experiment and an adventure but he let nothing deter him from pushing forward man’s conquest of speed and distance and the eventual mastery of the skies.
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