Friday, May 27, 2016

[510] MTSU senior’s cross-country flight of a lifetime retraces pioneer’s path

MURFREESBORO — Middle Tennessee State University senior Collin McDonald of Carthage, Tennessee, left Murfreesboro May 19 to begin a monthlong adventure that eventually will take him on a cross-country journey that follows that of aviation pioneer Cal Rodgers more than 100 years ago.

McDonald, 22, who is a 4.0 student majoring in aerospace maintenance management and an Honors College Buchanan Fellow, plans to take 30 days to complete the flight he is calling “Vin Fiz2” because Rodgers' plane was called The Vin Fiz after a grape soft drink. McDonald anticipates at least 100 stops along the way.

To view video of McDonald’s departure from Murfreesboro Airport, visit

Rodgers made the first transcontinental airplane flight across the United States, beginning Sept. 11, 1911, and ending Nov. 5. He reportedly had a number of scheduled stops and those that included accidents. He became an instant national celebrity, but died in a plane crash several months later during an exhibition in California.

“I am retracing his route from New York to Long Beach (California) via Chicago and Dallas,” McDonald said. “The whole purpose of the trip is to get more young people and adults alike — but especially the next generation — involved with general aviation.”

McDonald, who also is making the trip for an Honors thesis project, said general aviation in young adults “has significantly declined in the last 20 years, and what that’s going to cause in the future is a massive pilot shortage as well as additional funding required to sponsor FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and general aviation programs.”

Before heading to New York to start the transcontinental flight next week from Long Island, New York, two of his first stops will include Beaufort, North Carolina, Friday and Saturday, May 20-21, for an Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association fly-in at Michael J. Smith Field and then on to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, site of the aviation pioneers’ Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight in 1903.

The family-owned airplane he is flying on the trip is a 1995 Maule MX-7-160. It is one year younger than him. It is nicknamed “Molly” and is a four-passenger plane.

McDonald plans daily updates on Facebook (Vin Fiz Flight) and blogging daily or every other day on

He will fly an average of six hours a day.

The MTSU student is funding this through aerospace and Honors College scholarship awards, a GoFundMe account and through a recent sale of commemorative T-shirts.

This fall, there will be three McDonalds attending MTSU on Buchanan Fellowships (scholarships). Collin and fellow senior Connor McDonald, the 2016-17 Student Government Association vice president, came together in 2013; sister Delanie McDonald will be a freshman this fall. This marks the first time that three members of the same family are enrolled at MTSU with Buchanan awards — the highest academic scholarship at the university.

They were homeschooled by their mother, Lorrie McDonald.

Honors College Dean John Vile and members of his staff, aerospace maintenance management faculty member Bill Allen, 2016-17 Student Government Association President Madison Tracy and McDonald’s parents were among those helping to see him off May 19.


Note: For those who would like to schedule an interview with McDonald during his journey, please call Randy Weiler at 615-785-1196.

A video link is available at

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