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Commander John Rodgers

Honolulu's first commercial airport was named after aviation pioneer John Rodgers. John Rodgers Airport opened in 1929. After World War II it was renamed the Honolulu Aiport, but when a new Honolulu Airport was built in 1962, the main terminal building was named after John Rodgers.

John Rodgers was to early Pacific aviation what Alan Shepherd was to the space age - a brave and gutsy pioneer who risked all odds to conquer a new frontier.

Rodgers, for whom Hawaii's first commercial airport was named, commanded the first attempted trans-Pacific flight from San Francisco to Hawaii in 1925 using a Navy-designed seaplane. He had a crew of four. Actually two planes started out, but one was forced to land in the ocean 300 miles out of San Francisco when it suffered a broken oil pressure line.

In preparation for the voyage, the Navy had stationed ships every 200 miles across the Pacific to act as check-points, for emergency use and to give the planes radio bearings as shore stations would do.

Rodger's plane carried 1,278 gallons of fuel in tanks and 50 gallons in five-gallon tins. The plane was so heavy it could barely take off, and in fact, the crew jettisoned things like parachutes and equipment to get out of the water.

The planes took off at 2:55 p.m. on August 31st, 1925 and for the first 17 hours in the air, Rodger's plane flew well, although he did not get as much wind as he would have liked. He radioed a ship that he would have to land in the ocean and take on more fuel. When he got within 200 miles of the fuel ship, he was given erroneous compass bearings and missed the ship and was forced to land in the water about 300 miles from Maui and 365 miles from Honolulu. He had been in the air 25 hours and 35 minutes after flying 1,870 nautical miles and had established a world seaplane record for distance.

Sure that they would be found quickly, the crew slept. Rescue ships searched the Pacific between the 21st and 23rd parallel and the 153rd and 155th meridian and couldn't find them.

After three days, the crew decided they wouldn't be found and improvised sails from fabric cut from the lower wing and fastened the fabric between the upper and lower wings. They covered about 50 miles a day with their unique sailing rig, while listening to radio reports of their demise.

On the eighth day out, they spotted lights off of what they calculated was Schofield Barracks. Needing more steering control, they worked throughout the night rigging an artificial keel. The next morning they anxiously searched for Kauai. About 9 a.m. the rain cleared and they sighted land. By 2 p.m. they were within 10 miles of Kauai when they were spotted by a Navy submarine and towed into Nawiliwili Harbor. Medics were surprised that they had survived the trip after being without food for a week and with only limited water. Each man had lost about 20 pounds.

Two years after the historic flight, on March 21, 1927, Honolulu's first commercial airport was opened and named John Rodgers Airport. After the airport was returned to the Territory following World War 11, it was renamed Honolulu Airport. When the new Honolulu Airport was built in 1962, state officials, not wanting to forget this remarkable man, named the Terminal Building after Rodgers.

Interestingly, Rodger's first trans-Pacific flight was two years before Charles Lindberg made his solo flight across the Atlantic.

A year later, while serving as Assistant Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, Rodgers was testing a new Navy plane on which he hoped to fly again to Hawaii. The plane crashed into the Delaware River and Rodgers was killed.

However, Rodgers' pioneering effort was the catalyst for future air travel to the Hawaiian Islands.

Article Courtesy of the Hawaii Department of Transportation

See also:
- Aviation History of Hawaii
- Airports in Hawaii
- Air Travel in Hawaii

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