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.


  1. Hello Henry: It was fun to see Vin Fizz posted! Perfect timing...I just finished reading your book Flight of Gin Fizz late the night before last. (And Zephyr a few weeks ago, and I started What's that Pig this morning :-)
    I've been meaning to write to ask you, and this is my opportunity..
    as a person who doesn't hear, do you dream in stereo sound? Or is your dream world silent, as well? It's something I've pondered on for a while....likewise, do blind people dream in color and sight? I often have these 'ponderisms' that I have to search out answers for! The Green Hermit chuckles at me, but that's ok, today is my birthday so I'll take the liberty to ask!! Thanks from the Viili Factory (we are now closed for business).

  2. Mrs. GH:

    Probably every deaf person will have a different answer. There indeed is sound, noise, in my dream world -- the monsters roar, and I roar back at them -- but I cannot tell you if I "hear" the sound or merely feel its vibrations.

    Having been deaf for 65 of my 68 years, I have no conscious memory of hearing. Possibly there is some remnant in the unconscious that surfaces during dreams.

    It would not be surprising if a person blind all his life tells you he "sees" the shapes of objects in his dreams. But is this actual vision, perhaps a memory of vision, or just a mental construct of how an object occupies space?

    It's a fascinating question.

  3. I am sure there is a good answer for this, but don't you have to be able to talk on radio in order to fly an airplane?

  4. E.W.: Not in airspace that does not require the use of radio. This means that pilots without radio can fly into 93 per cent of American airports (only 7 per cent require radio communication with the tower) and in almost all airspace under 18,000 feet mean sea level. That's a lot of airspace.

  5. Knowledge giving Article! I appreciate you. I completely agree with you. If we talk about current scenario then it is must be update. I enjoyed reading. I would like to visit more for more queries.