Wiley Hardeman Post (November 22, 1898 – August 15, 1935) was the first pilot to fly solo around the world. Also known for his work in high altitude flying, Post helped develop one of the first pressure suits. His plywood monocoque aircraft, the Winnie Mae is on display at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center adjacent to Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia, and his pressure suit is being prepared for display at the same location. On August 15, 1935, Post and American humorist Will Rogers were killed when Post's plane crashed on takeoff from a lagoon near Point Barrow, in Alaska.
Early flying career
Post was born in Grand Saline, Texas
(Van Zandt County), but his family moved to Oklahoma when he was five. His aviation career began at age 26 as a parachutist for a flying circus, Burrell Tibbs and His Texas Topnotch Fliers
, and he became well known on the barnstorming circuit. On 1 October
, an oil field accident cost him his left eye, but he used the settlement money to buy his first aircraft. Around this time, he met fellow Oklahoman Will Rogers when he flew Rogers to a rodeo, and the two eventually became close friends. Post was the personal pilot of wealthy Oklahoma oilmen Powell Briscoe and F.C. Hall in 1930 when Hall bought a high-wing, single-engine Lockheed Vega, one of the most famous record-breaking planes of the early 1930s. The oilman nicknamed the plane Winnie Mae
, after his daughter, and Post achieved his first national prominence in it by winning the National Air Race Derby, from Los Angeles
. The plane's fuselage was inscribed, "Los Angeles to Chicago 9 hrs. 9 min. 4 sec. Aug. 27, 1930".
Around the world
With Harold Gatty
Like many pilots at the time, Post disliked the fact that the speed record for flying around the world
was not held by a fixed-wing aircraft, but by the Graf Zeppelin
, piloted by Hugo Eckener
in 1929 with a time of 21 days. On June 23
, Post and his navigator, Harold Gatty
, left Roosevelt Field
on Long Island, New York
in the Winnie Mae
with a flight plan that would take them around the world, making fourteen stops along the way in Newfoundland
, the Soviet Union
, Alberta, Canada
and Cleveland, Ohio
before returning to Roosevelt Field. They arrived back on July 1
after traveling 15,474 miles in the record time of 8 days and 15 hours and 51 minutes. The reception they received rivaled Lindbergh's
everywhere they went. They had lunch at the White House
on July 6
, rode in a ticker-tape parade
the next day in New York City
, and were honored at a banquet given by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America at the Hotel Astor. After the flight, Post acquired the Winnie Mae
from F.C. Hall, and he and Gatty published an account of their journey titled, Around the World in Eight Days
, with an introduction by Will Rogers.
First solo pilot
After the record-setting flight, Post wanted to open his own aeronautical school, but could not raise enough financial support because of doubts many had about his rural background and limited formal education. Motivated by his detractors, Post decided to attempt a solo flight around the world and to break his previous speed record. Over the next year, Post improved his aircraft by installing an autopilot
device and a radio compass
that were in their final stages of development by the Sperry Gyroscope Company
and the United States Army
. In 1933, he repeated his flight around the world, this time using the auto-pilot and compass in place of his navigator and becoming the first to accomplish the feat alone. 50,000 people greeted him on his return to Brooklyn
's Floyd Bennett Field
on July 22
after 7 days, 19 hours -- 21 hours less than his previous record, and he was given a second ticker-tape parade in New York.
First pressure suit
In 1934, with financial support from Frank Phillips of the Phillips Petroleum Company
, Post began exploring the limits of high-altitude, long-distance flight. The Winnie Mae's cabin could not be pressurized so he worked with Russell S. Colley of the B.F. Goodrich Company
to develop what became the world's first practical pressure suit
. The body of the suit had three layers: long underwear, an inner black rubber air pressure bladder, and an outer suit made of rubberised parachute fabric. The outer suit was glued to a frame with arm and leg joints that allowed him to operate the flight controls and to walk to and from the aircraft. Attached to the frame were pigskin gloves, rubber boots, and an aluminium and plastic diver's helmet. The helmet had a removable faceplate that could be sealed at a height of 17,000 feet, and could accommodate earphones and a throat microphone. In the first flight using the suit on September 5
, Post reached an altitude of 40,000 feet above Chicago. Eventually flying as high as 50,000 feet, Post discovered the jet stream
and made the first major practical advances in pressurized flight. The suit is currently being prepared for display at the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Attempted high altitude non-stop transcontinental flights
Between February 22 and June 15, 1935, Post made four unsuccessful attempts to complete the first high altitude non-stop flight from Los Angeles to New York all of which failed for various mechanical reasons. The first attempt on February 22 ended just 57.5 miles East of Los Angeles at Muroc, CA. This was followed by attempts on March 15 (Cleveland, OH; 2,035 miles), April 14 (Lafayette, IN; 1,760 miles), and June 15 (Wichita, KS; 1,188 miles). As the attempts were also meant to be the "First Air Mail Stratosphere Flight" over U.S. Air Mail Route #2 (AM-2) from Los Angeles to New York, Post also carried a quantity of cacheted covers sponsored by Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc
on all four flights. When Post was killed on August 15, 1935, thus ending the possibility of any more attempts to complete the AM-2 stratosphere flight, the covers were finally cancelled in Los Angeles on August 20, 1935, and forwarded to their addressees.
In 1935 Post became interested in surveying a mail-and-passenger air route from the West Coast of the United States
. Short on cash, he built a plane using parts salvaged from two different aircraft: The fuselage of an airworthy Lockheed Orion
and the wing of a wrecked experimental Lockheed Explorer
. The Explorer wing was six feet longer in span than the Orion's original wing, an advantage which extended the hybrid aircraft's range. As the Explorer wing did not have retractable landing gear, it also lent itself to the fitting of floats
for landing in the lakes of Alaska
. Post's friend Will Rogers
visited him often at the airport in Burbank, California
while he was building the aircraft, and asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of new material for his newspaper column. When the floats Post had ordered did not arrive at Seattle
in time, he used a set that was designed for a larger plane, making the already nose-heavy hybrid aircraft still more nose-heavy. (One source has stated that the floats were the correct type for the aircraft.)
After making a test flight in July, Post and Rogers left Seattle in the plane in early August. While Post piloted the plane, Rogers wrote his columns on his typewriter. On August 15 they left Fairbanks, Alaska for Point Barrow. They were a few miles from Point Barrow when they became uncertain of their position in bad weather and landed in a lagoon to ask directions. The engine failed on take off, at low altitude, and the aircraft, uncontrollably nose-heavy at low speed, plunged into the lagoon, shearing off the right wing and ending inverted in the shallow water of the lagoon. Both men died instantly.
Memorials and awards
In 1936, the Smithsonian Institution
acquired the Winnie Mae
from Post's widow for $25,000. The United States Congress authorized the purchase on August 24, 1935, just nine days after Post's death in Alaska. Two monuments at the crash site
commemorate the death of the two men and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places
A large FAA designated reliever airport in Oklahoma City is named after Post. The major commercial airport is named after Will Rogers, so that both victims of the crash are honored by airports in Oklahoma City. The Will Rogers - Wiley Post Memorial Seaplane Base is a seaplane base located on Lake Washington, at the north end of the Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Washington.
Wiley Post received the Distinguished Flying Cross (1932), the Gold Medal of Belgium (1934), and the International Harmon Trophy (1934). He was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1969 . In 1979, the United States Postal Service honored him with two airmail stamps (C95 and C96).
- Wiley Post and the Winnie Mae AcePilots.com. 2003.
- Lockheed 5C Vega Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
- Johnson, Bobby H. Post, Wiley Hardeman The Texas State Historical Association.
- Johnson, Bobby H. and Mohler, Stanley R. "Wiley Post, His Winnie Mae, and the World's First Pressure Suit." Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1971.
- Onkst, David H. Wiley Post U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission.
- Sterling, Bryan and Frances, "Forgotten Eagle: Wiley Post, America's Heroic Aviation Pioneer."
- Wiley Post Century of Flight.
- Renton Municipal Airport - Will Rogers-Wiley Post Seaplane Base