Coast To Coast In 12 Crashes

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The next day, with only seventy-five miles to go before reaching his official destination at Pasadena, CaI left Banning and was soon forced down by a broken gasoline line. He finally reached his goal at 4:08 P.M. on the afternoon of Sunday, November 5, forty-nine days after leaving New York. He had covered 4,231 railroad miles in three days, ten hours and four minutes of actual flying time, for an average speed of about 52 miles per hour.

CaI landed at Tournament Park, where 10,000 wildly cheering people rushed onto the field and swarmed around the plane. CaI was escorted from the Vin Fiz by policemen who had to punch the crowd back with their night sticks. The hero was wrapped in an American flag, driven around the field, then taken to the Hotel Maryland, where he celebrated—by drinking a glass of milk and eating some crackers.

By this time, there wasn’t much romance left in flying as far as CaI was concerned. “I am glad this trip is over,” he said to reporters. “I am not in this business because I like it, but because of what I can make out of it; personally, I prefer an automobile with a good driver to a biplane. But someone had to do this flying and I decided it might as well be I.

“My record will not last long,” he went on to say,˗ and he ventured the opinion that “with proper landing places along the route and other conditions looked after, the trip can easily be made in thirty days or less.”

˗It was broken in October, 1919, by Lt. Belvin W. Maynard, U.S.A., who flew a de Havilland from Hazelhurst Field near Mineola, N.Y., to San Francisco in the elapsed time of 3 days, 8 hours, 41 minutes, 30 seconds, cutting about an hour and a quarter off the Vin Fiz ’s time. Taking a more direct route than Rodgers, Maynard flew only 2,701 miles, at an average ground speed of 108 m.p.h.

The present coast-to-coast record (not counting the orbiting astronauts) is 2 hours, 58.71 seconds—at an average ground speed of 1,214.65 m.p.h.—set by Captain Robert G. Sowers in an Air Force 6-58 Hustler on March 5, 1962.

Despite the sense of finality occasioned by his arrival in Pasadena, CaI did not consider his trip over until he reached the Pacific Ocean. On Sunday, November 12, he left Pasadena and headed for Long Beach. Halfway there, while attempting an emergency landing, he crashed in a plowed field. For the fifth time the Vin Fiz was badly cracked up; CaI was hauled from the wreckage, bruised and unconscious. The next day he revived, sat up in bed, smoked a cigar, and talked to his family and a few friends.

“I don’t know what may have caused it,” he said. “Something may have broken or I may have temporarily lost control. I can’t say. Anyway I know I hit the ground a mighty hard whack. But it’s all in the ball game. I am going to finish that flight and finish it with that same machine.”

But his ankle was broken, and it was almost a month before he was well enough to be up and around again. On Sunday, December 10, he hobbled through an alfalfa field near Compton, climbed aboard his plane, tucked his crutches behind him, and took off for Long Beach. He landed on the sand and wet his wheels in the ocean as a gigantic crowd of 50,000 cheered him from the boardwalk. His historic flight was finally over.

There is not much more to the story of CaI Rodgers. He was broke now; he had failed to win the $50,000 Hearst prize, of course, and had spent every penny paid him by the Armour Company to keep the Vin Fiz going. For a few weeks more he was a hero honored across the land. He received a gold medal from the Aero Club of America and drew big crowds whenever he made exhibition flights.

But CaI seemed a little lost. He wanted to fly to San Francisco, but never got around to it. He spoke vaguely of starting his own aircraft factory, but no plans materialized. Then, on the afternoon of April 3, 1912, he took off for a quick spin around Long Beach in the spare aircraft that had travelled across the country aboard the special train. Out over the water, a few yards from the beach, his plane hit a flock of sea gulls and plunged out of control into the ocean. CaI was immediately pulled from the wreckage by some swimmers, but it was too late: his neck was broken, and he died a few feet from the spot where, less than four months before, he had made history.