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One-Hundred Years Late, But Long Beach Keeps Its Promise

One-Hundred Years Late, But Long Beach Keeps Its Promise:
Plaque and Plane Replica to Be Dedicated on 100th Anniversary of First Transcontinental Flight

(Long Beach, CA) – The City of Long Beach is poised to keep a promise it made after Calbraith “Cal” Perry Rodgers landed his plane on the beach near Linden Avenue 100 years ago.

On December 10, at 1 p.m., at Long Beach Convention Center’s International Center Theater, city officials and other dignitaries will unveil a plaque and a one-third scale replica of the Wright Brothers EX-1 airplane Rodgers flew on that historic journey which will hang from the ceiling of the lobby of the Long Beach Arena. Cal Rodgers was the first to fly across the U.S. He took off from Sheepshead Bay, New York on September 17, 1911 and completed his journey in Long Beach, California on December 10, 1911.

“After Rodgers landed on the beach near Linden Avenue and Seaside Way, the city promised to raise funds to pay for a plaque and marker to commemorate this historic event,” explains Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske, who chaired the Transcontinental Centennial Committee which organized a yearlong calendar of events celebrating aviation history in Long Beach.

“Unfortunately, in 1911, a little less than $50 was raised and the marker was never made. We are keeping that promise on December 10, 2011.”

Colorful History

Rodgers began the quest for a $50,000 prize offered by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst to the first pilot to fly coast-to-coast in 30 days or less. “He kept going even after he knew he’d lost the Hearst prize,” Schipske notes.

Rodgers took off from Sheepshead Bay, New York, on September 17, 1911, aboard the Wright Ex-1 plane he named for Armour and Co.’s new grape soda – Vin Fiz.  Armour provided financial support for his journey. Without navigation aids or airports, Rodgers followed railroad tracks along a southern route to California, landing in Pasadena on November 5.

 “Rodgers wanted to complete his cross country flight at the Pacific Ocean,” Schipske explains.  “There was a bidding war by several cities anxious to gain those bragging rights. Long Beach Parks Manager Squire DuRee and the Chamber of Commerce, convinced Rodgers (with $1,000) that he needed to finish his flight in Long Beach.”

Rodgers took off from Pasadena on November 12. “He blacked out while flying over Compton and crashed. He suffered a concussion, broken ribs and ankles and gasoline burns and was taken back to Pasadena to heal. The ‘Vin Fiz’ was taken to the Sun Parlor at the end of the Pine Avenue Pier in Long Beach to be rebuilt,” she says.

On December 10, Rodgers strapped his crutches to the “Vin Fiz,” and took off again.  He was escorted over the ocean by local aviators Beryl Williams, Frank Champion and Earl Daugherty.  Rodgers flew around the Walk of a Thousand Lights and touched down in the water to make history, as 50,000 people cheered, Schipske reports.

“It had taken 84 days, 70 landings and 16 crashes in a plane that was by today’s standards little more than a kite with a motor,” she notes. “This man, who was deaf due to childhood scarlet fever, navigated with railroad tracks and a string attached to the frame of his airplane which told him if the plane was level. He was a real daredevil.”

Rodgers was honored at the Pasadena Rose Parade and by Pres. William Taft who presented the Aero Club Gold Medal for his flight. Long Beach promised to place a marker at his landing spot.

Returning to Long Beach to run a business providing rides in his planes over Long Beach and its beaches to excited residents and visitors, Rodgers crashed and died just four months after his historic landing and less than one hundred yards from where he had eased his plane into the water. His body was taken by train back to Pennsylvania.

December 10, 2011 Event

The unveiling of the replica and plaque will feature a number of speakers, including the Regional Administrator of the FAA and Jim Lloyd, who built a replica of the “Vin Fiz” and re-enacted the journey for the 75th Anniversary of the First Transcontinental Flight, in 1986. Lloyd will talk about what he experienced flying the same route.

The public is invited to attend the event. The Vin Fiz replica has been constructed by Arizona Aircraft Replicas, LLC, in Scottsdale, Arizona and will hang from the ceiling in the Long Beach Arena and a plaque explaining about Rodgers’ landing will be displayed on a wall. The Arena is less than 900 yards from where Rodgers landed.

“We will also announce the middle and high school winners of our ‘We Can Soar’ essay contest,” Schipske adds. “They were challenged to give their perspective on Rodgers’ feat.” The top high school winner will receive a $500 scholarship and the top middle school winner will receive a flight in a private airplane. Second and third place finishers in all age groups will get a tour of the Long Beach Airport and an airport goodie bag.