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Reconstruction of the first solo transcontinental powered fight by Calbraith Rodgers in 1911, in a biplane heading from Long Island to Los Angeles and named after a short-lived soft drink, Vin Fiz. Rodgers was the perfect man for this staggeringly inspiring air journey, being in the bloodlines of Commodores Matthew Calbraith Perry and Oliver Hazard Perry. He was also--into his 30s--dependent on his grandiloquent mother, who patiently awaited his adventurous blooming in the family manner. He had spent less than 60 hours aloft before entering the cross-country air race for the $50,000 William Randolph Hearst prize. It took Rodgers 84 days to make his journey; which required a small army of support workers accompanying him by train included was his social-butterfly wife Mabel, who eventually survived him by 60 years. At takeoff, on September 17, 1911, asked why the flight was so important to him, Cal replied, "". . .because everything else I've done was not important."" Along with a natural athleticism, he had a mystic bond with machine and sky. Once in the air ""anything--anything!--was now possible."" His first leg over Manhattan is, in Stein's hands, enthralling, the skyscrapers spectacular. ""I felt I could step out. . . and walk on the roof tops."" Crashing after the first day, the demolished plane is, within days, again airborne. But this is only the first of many major and minor crashes. Meanwhile cities begin ante-ing up fair-sized sums to be included on Cat's itinerary, and soon the nation is on fire with his odyssey, with families riding miles over the plains to see him. His final triumph at Pasadena, with the plane a near wreck as he lands amid a hysterical throng 20,000 strong, will have readers jumping up and down as well. Unfortunately, the bottle of Vin Fiz was shattered within three months by a fatal crash into the Pacific--nor did Hearst pony up the prize money! Stein keeps his well-written chronicle responsive to every breath of spirit in the journey, and is especially equal to moments of wonder aloft.

Pub Date: May 30th, 1985
Publisher: Arbor House