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the Wright brothers may have been the first to make a sustained,
controlled flight, they were just two among hundreds of brave men
and women who helped to give the world its wings during the earliest
days of aviation. Their Flyer was but one of many historically
important aircraft. Below are brief descriptions and photos of some of the most important
people and planes, and where available resources and links where you can find more
information. In some cases, contributors have supplied expanded
histories and biographies. Those are listed at the right and linked below.
Rathbun of Washington, DC was the Assistant Secretary of the
Smithsonian Institution in charge of Office and Exchanges. It was his
responsibility to answer correspondence concerning Secretary Samuel
Langley's activities in aeronautics, and it was Rathbun who answered Wilbur Wright's request for
aeronautical information in 1899. Rathbun sent Wright several pamphlets
and reprints from scientific journals, along with a reading list. It was
the standard answer for such requests. Rathbun himself was a geologist and
paleontologist with an in-depth knowledge of marine invertebrates,
both prehistoric and present. He also held an honorary title at the
Smithsonian as a curator of the Department of Marine Invertebrates.
Wilbur Wright's letter of 30 May 1899 to the Smithsoniam requesting
information on aeronautics.
Calbraith Rodgers learned to fly at the
Wright Flying School in 1911 and a few months later flew a Wright Model Ex
across the United States for Sheepshead Bay, New York, to Long Beach
California in 84 days. Along the way he had many crashes both minor and
major. Just ten miles short of his goal of Long Beach, he suffered
an accident in which he broke his ankle and had to complete the
flight in a cast with his crutches strapped to the airframe. The
airplane, named the Vin Fiz for the soft drink company that
sponsored his flight, fared no better. By the time Rodgers landed at
Long Beach, the only original parts on the airplane was a strut, the
rudder, and the oil drip pan. Everything else had been replace at
least once. Nonetheless, it was the first transcontinental flight.
For an expanded biography of Cal Rodgers and the full
story of his transcontinental flight, see
Tale of the Vin Fiz.
Calbraith Perry Rodgers
Cal Rodgers with his Wright Model EX, the
Vin Fiz, just before
starting out to cross the United States.