Friday, October 31, 2008
Visit to the Vin Fiz
While in Washington last week, I stopped by the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to pay pilotly respects to its historic aircraft, most notably the ancient Vin Fiz. This was the primitive Wright biplane in which a wealthy, eccentric and deaf aviator named Calbraith Perry Rodgers made the first flight across the United States, in 1911.
"Flight" is hardly the word to describe Rodgers' achievement. It took him six weeks and many short flights and crashes -- hop, skip, splat! -- to make his way across the continent. He wasn't a very good pilot, but he was a determined and ultimately successful one.
His story inspired my 1997 book Flight of the Gin Fizz, partly because, as Rodgers was, I am deaf. Re-enacting his aerial odyssey was a glorious exercise in middle-aged derring-do, although I flew a modern and far more capable airplane, a Cessna 150 trainer.
Vin Fiz is tucked nearly out of sight in a corner of the upper back hall of Air & Space, overwhelmed by the bulk of Amelia Earhart's cherry-red Lockheed Vega and the Lindberghs' Lockheed Sirius seaplane Tingmissartoq. But it is safe to say that during the next three years the old Wright will come out of the shadows when several latter-day pilots re-enact the saga of Vin Fiz on her centenary, at least one of them a fellow deaf aviator on a budget and at least one of the airplanes a well-funded and close replica of Cal Rodgers' steed.