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December in Aviation History

The Flight of the Vin Fiz

Of course every December aviation story is eclipsed by the historic Wright brothers flight in 1903. But a later December aviation milestone involved another Wright creation when Cal Rodgers landed in Long Beach, CA in the Wright EX Vin Fiz completing the first transcontinental flight on December 10 of 1911. The flight began in Long Island, NY in September, and the journey of over 4000 miles involved actual flying time of about 84 hours.

Rodgers was the grandnephew of naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry and had taken about 90 minutes of instruction from Orville Wright in June 1911 before soloing, and had won an $11,000 air endurance prize in a contest in August. Rodgers became the first private citizen to buy a Wright airplane, a Wright Model B modified and called the Model EX.

Since the airplane needed a considerable support crew, Rodgers persuaded J. Ogden Armour, of meatpacking fame, to sponsor the attempt, and in return named the plane after Armour's new grape soft drink Vin Fiz. The support team included Charlie Taylor, the Wright brothers' bicycle shop and aircraft mechanic, who built their first and later engines and knew every detail of Wright airplane construction.

The plan had called for a large number of stops along the way, but in the end there were 75, including 16 crashes, and Rodgers was injured several times. Taylor and the team of mechanics rebuilt the Vin Fiz Flyer when necessary, and only a few pieces of the original plane actually made the entire trip. Rodgers was killed in an air crash on the Pacific shore of the US shortly after the flight across the US.

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