Calbraith Perry Rodgers (January 12, 1879 – April 3, 1912) was a pioneer American aviator who was the first civilian to purchase a Wright Flyer and the first to make a transcontinental flight.
Rodgers was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
, and was related to Commodores Oliver Hazard Perry
and Matthew Calbraith Perry
. A childhood bout with scarlet fever
left him completely deaf in one ear and hearing impaired in the other. He lived in Havre de Grace, Maryland
, and had a cousin, John Rodgers
, in the Navy's Aerial Corps, learning to fly the Navy's newly purchased Wright airplane. In March 1911 Cal visited the Wright factory and flying school in Dayton, Ohio
, to see his brother and he became interested in aviation. On August 7
he took his official flying examination at Huffman Prairie
and became the 49th aviator licensed to fly by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale
Cross country flight
The publisher William Randolph Hearst
offered a $US
50,000 prize to the first aviator to fly coast to coast, in either direction, in less than 30 days from start to finish. Rodgers persuaded J. Ogden Armour
, of Armour and Company
, to sponsor the flight, and in return he named the plane, a Wright Model EX designed for exhibition flights, after Armour's grape soft drink Vin Fiz.
(A previous attempt had been made by Henry Atwood
). Rodgers left from Sheepshead Bay
, New York on September 17
at 4:30 pm. He crossed the Rocky Mountains
on November 5
and landed at Tournament Park in Pasadena, California
at 4:04, in front of a crowd of 20,000 people. He had missed the prize deadline by 19 days. On December 10
he landed at Long Beach, California
and symbolically taxied his plane into the Pacific Ocean
. He had carried the first transcontinental U.S. Mail pouch and was accompanied on the ground by a support crew that repaired and rebuilt the plane after each crash landing. The trip required 70 stops and he paid the Wright's technician Charlie Taylor $US
70 a week to be his mechanic. Taylor followed the flight by train, frequently arriving before Rodgers at the next rendezvous, to make any required repairs and prepare the aircraft for the next day's flight. The next transcontinental flight
was made by Robert D. Fowler
. In 1986, to celebrate the 75th anniversary a reenactment in a "replica" biplane was flown by Jim Lloyd of New York.
On April 3
, while making a test flight in Long Beach, California
, he flew into a flock of birds, causing the plane to crash into the ocean. His neck was broken and his body badly mashed by the engine of his machine. He died a few moments later. He was the 127th airplane fatality since aviation began, and was the 22nd American aviator to be killed.
- Eileen F. Lebow, Cal Rodgers and the Vin Fiz: the First Transcontinental Flight (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989)
- E. P. Stein, Flight of the Vin Fiz (New York: Arbor House, 1985) ISBN 0877956723.
- Richard L. Taylor, The First Flight Across the United States: the Story of Calbraith Perry Rodgers and His Airplane, the Vin Fiz, (New York: F. Watts, 1993)
- Linn's Stamp News; January 14, 2002, p. 14; "New 'Vin Fiz Flyer' card found and auctioned"
- New York Times; Wednesday, October 11, 1911; Air Record Broken By Aviator Rodgers; Exceeds Atwood's Cross-Country Flight Of 1,265 Miles By Making 1,398 To Date. Marshall, Missouri, October 10, 1911. C.P. Rodgers, the aviator who is trying to make a coast to coast flight, landed at Marshall at 4:23 o'clock this afternoon, exceeding the world's record for cross country aeroplane flight by 133 miles. The world' record of 1,265 miles was made by Henry Atwood in a recent flight from St. Louis to New York. Rodgers has flown 1,398 miles according to railroad mileage.