John Rodgers International Airport used to be the name of the Danial K Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. Today, there is still a John Rodgers Airport – but it is not the big one you fly into here in Hawaii – instead it is the little training and tourist airport located in Kalaeloa on Oahu. So, who was John Rodgers and why are these airports named after him?
First of all, it wasn’t just airports that were named after him. There were also six U.S. Naval Ships named after Rodgers, his father, and his grandfather. They were all important Naval officers. But let’s just focus on John Rodgers the aviator for now. In 1911, Rodgers became the 2nd Naval officer to fly for the U.S. Navy. The first plane he flew was actually delivered by Orville Wright…
While all of that is impressive, it’s not why I’m writing about him. In 1925, Rodgers decided to push aviation technology to the limits and attempt a flight from California to Hawaii. If successful, he would have been the first – but – he wasn’t successful and that left the success to Amelia Earhardt. So, why am I writing about a failed attempt and why were airports named after a guy who didn’t succeed?
Because it is an epic story. Rodgers and his crew ran out of fuel half way to Hawaii. They were supposed to be able to land the plane on the water and refuel from a Navy ship but due to communication and navigation errors – they never found the ship. So they were stuck in a plane with no fuel in the middle of the Pacific. Did they give up and die? No way.
Rodgers took fabric from one of the aircraft wings and created a sail for his plane. Then, he and his crew sailed the plane the rest of the way to Hawaii! They ran out of food and had limited water for a week of the journey and despite the failure they set the record for non-stop air distance for a seaplane. They were welcomed to Hawaii as heroes.
Rodgers died in a plane crash just a year later. He was 45 years old.