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He intended to become well qualified both as a pilot and mechanic. He purposely put off learning to fly until he completely understood the plane and all its working parts in every way. For some time Fowler put in long hours in the Wright factory helping to build and assemble every piece and part of his plane and engine, then he started flying lessons from [[crossed-out]]I[[/crossed-out]] instructor Al Welsh, with some special attention from Orville Wright. He was an unusually apt pupil and caught on quickly, making his first solo flight on his birthday, August 10, 1911.

After very little practice, Fowler shipped his plane to the West Coast with three engines and a quantity of spare parts to prepare for the start of his flight across the continent. The plane had two standard fuel tanks, a seven-hour supply, and Wright factory mechanic R.G. Howland accompanied the shipment. Fowler chose as his mechanics and assistants Ralph Newcomb and Frank Murray of San Francisco, and J.A. Passfield of Los Angeles. It first appeared that Fowler would be competing with seven other aviators in the coast-to-coast race, but actually only two others really started. Fowler was first to leave on September 11th, James Ward started from Governors Island, New York, on September 13th and Cal Rodgers from Sheepshead Bay, Long Island, New York, On September 17th. After a series of mishaps Ward gave up the trip on the evening of the 14th at Addison, New York. 

Fowler officially  started his flight from the Stadium, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Circling, he gained an altitude of about 1,500 feet, which was over twice as high as he had ever been. He then started off of his eastward course. Approaching the mountains he ran into near gale winds that really buffeted him about. After sticking with it for about half an hour, he gave up and landed in a clearing near the foothills resulting in a smashup which partially wrecked his plane, although he was not hurt. The next morning his mechanics helped het the plane out and they decided it could be rebuilt with the spare parts they had except for the lower wings, for which they wired to Dayton. This repair work was done at Colfax, California, and on September 23rd he was ready to start. After less than