Barnstormer and daredevil C.P. Rodgers piloted the first plane to fly over the Rose Parade on Jan. 1, 1912. The plane in the photo is not his usual aircraft, the Wright Model EX Vin Fiz, but a spare Model B.
by Laura Berthold Monteros
Quick question: When did the flyovers of the Rose Parade begin? If you said in 1997 at the 108th Tournament of Roses Parade, with the B-2 Spirit “stealth bomber” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the US Air Force, you would be…wrong!
The first flyover was 85 years earlier, in 1912 at the 23rd Rose Parade. Broadcaster and barnstormer C.P. Rodgers, after a historic cross-country flight from the Atlantic to the Pacific, flew over the parade in his plane Vin Fiz, a Wright Model EX. He dropped flowers along the entire route; some say they were rose petals; others say it was 10,000 carnations.
Born Calbraith Perry Rodgers, the aviator had undertaken the transcontinental flight to garner a $50,000 prize offered by William Randolph Hearst, but he missed the deadline by 19 days. On April 3, his plane was hit by birds during an exhibition over Long Beach, Calif. and he died in the crash at age 33. This was the first recorded instance of a fatality resulting from a bird strike.
Such an impromptu flight would not be allowed today, of course, what with security and other aircraft taking up airspace over the route.
Nonetheless, he is remembered for his daring flights, his huge personality, and for being the first aviator to fly over the Rose Parade. He was so popular with parade-goers that they gave him the title of King of the Rose Parade, the first in a short line of three. There was no Rose Queen that year, so folks created their own royalty.
Parade-goers still enjoy looking up to see the B-2 and other Air Force wonders fly overhead, as well as the Goodyear blimp and the occasional small planes dragging banners or puffing out ads. Here are some examples.
B-2 Spirit at the 2020 Rose Parade
It’s a marvel of engineering, the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. The shape makes it difficult for radar detection, but most impressive to parade-goers—besides the sheer beauty of this war machine—is that it can’t be heard until it is almost overhead. It has a wingspan of 172 feet and weighs 160,000 pounds, but for its massive size, it is frighteningly quiet. For the first time in Rose Parade history, the crew of two pilots included a woman: Lt. Col. Nicola “Rogue” Polidor with Major Justin “Rocky” Spencer
Goodyear blimp videos the 2020 Rose Parade
To residents of the Pasadena area, the Goodyear blimp is a frequent sight when games are held in the Rose Bowl Stadium. On New Year’s Day, it does double duty in taking overhead video the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl Game. A ride in the blimp is one of the exciting events that the Tournament of Roses Royal Court gets to do.
Annual visitors—the parrots of Pasadena
People local to Pasadena love to come to the Rose Parade, but they aren’t the only ones who enjoy the festivities. Every year, the flocks that make their homes in or near Pasadena make an early morning trek to circle the over the grandstands. This photo is from 2018.
The 2018 flyover added two F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters in a tribute to organ donation. The F-35 to the left of the bomber represented giving life (organ donors) and to the right, receiving life (organ recipients). Organ donor USAF Maj. Benjamin “Chex” Meier piloted the plane on the left before he lost his life; it was flown by a close friend for the Rose Parade.
And yet another feathered flyover
What appears to be a hawk flies below the Air Force formation. After all, the airspace is free to birds!