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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 Lockheed Vega aircraft, the Winnie Mae is on display at the National Air and Space Museummarker's Steven F.marker Udvar-Hazy Centermarker adjacent to Dulles International Airportmarker in Chantilly, Virginiamarker, and his pressure suit is being prepared for display at the same location. On August 15, 1935, Post and Americanmarker humorist Will Rogers were killed when Post's aircraft crashed on takeoff from a lagoon near Point Barrowmarker, in Alaskamarker.

Early flying career

Post was born in Grand Saline, Texasmarker (Van Zandt County), to farmer parents William Francis and Mae Quinlan Post, 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 October 1, 1926, 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 aircraft 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 Angelesmarker to Chicagomarker. The plane's fuselage was inscribed, "Los Angeles to Chicago 9 hrs. 8 min. 2 sec. August 27, 1930." Adam Charles Williams finished second with a time of 9 hrs. 9 min. 4 sec.

Around the world

With Harold Gatty

Wiley Post with Gatty in Germany, 1931
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, 1931, Post and his navigator, Harold Gatty, left Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New Yorkmarker in the Winnie Mae with a flight plan that would take them around the world, stopping at Harbour Gracemarker, Flintshiremarker, Hanovermarker twice, Berlinmarker, Moscowmarker, Novosibirskmarker, Irkutskmarker, Blagoveshchenskmarker, Khabarovskmarker, Nomemarker where his airscrew had to be repaired, Fairbanksmarker where the airscrew was replaced, Edmontonmarker, and Clevelandmarker 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 Housemarker on July 6, rode in a ticker-tape parade the next day in New York Citymarker, 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 direction finder 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. He departed from Floyd Bennett Fieldmarker and continued on to Berlinmarker where repairs were attempted to his autopilot, stopped at Königsbergmarker to replace some forgotten maps, Moscowmarker for more repairs to his autopilot, Novosibirskmarker, Irkutskmarker for final repairs to the autopilot, Rukhlovomarker, Khabarovskmarker, Flatmarker where his airscrew had to be replaced, Fairbanksmarker, Edmontonmarker, and back to Floyd Bennett Field. Fifty thousand people greeted him on his return 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 ft, and could accommodate earphones and a throat microphone. In the first flight using the suit on September 5, 1934, Post reached an altitude of 40,000 ft above Chicago. Eventually flying as high as 50,000 ft, 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.marker Udvar-Hazy Centermarker.

Attempted high altitude non-stop transcontinental flights

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, Ohio; 2,035 miles), April 14 (Lafayette, Indiana; 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 cover 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.

Final flight

In 1935 Post became interested in surveying a mail-and-passenger air route from the West Coast of the United Statesmarker to Russiamarker. 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 range of the hybrid aircraft. 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 Alaskamarker and Siberiamarker. Post's friend Will Rogers visited him often at the airport in Burbank, Californiamarker while he was modifying 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 Seattlemarker in time, he used a set that was designed for a larger type, making the already nose-heavy hybrid aircraft still more nose-heavy. (One source has stated that the floats were correct for the aircraft.)

After making a test flight in July, Post and Rogers left Seattlemarker in early August. While Post piloted the aircraft, Rogers wrote his columns on his typewriter. On August 15, they left Fairbanksmarker, Alaska for Point Barrowmarker. 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. On takeoff, the engine failed at low altitude, and the aircraft, uncontrollably nose-heavy at low speed, plunged into the lagoon, shearing off the right wing and ended inverted in the shallow water of the lagoon. Both men died instantly.

Before they left Fairbanks they signed and mailed a yacht club burgee belonging to South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club. The signed Burgee is on display at South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club in Marina del Rey, California.

Honors and tributes

In 1936, the Smithsonian Institutionmarker 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 sitemarker commemorate the death of the two men and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Wiley Post Airportmarker, 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 Citymarker. The Will Rogers - Wiley Post Memorial Seaplane Basemarker is a seaplane base located on Lake Washingtonmarker, at the north end of the Renton Municipal Airportmarker in Renton, Washingtonmarker.

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 Famemarker in 1969. In 1979, the United States Postal Service honored him with two airmail stamps.




  • Johnson, Bobby H. "Post, Wiley Hardeman." The Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved: April 3, 2009.
  • Johnson, Bobby H. and R. Stanley Mohler. "Wiley Post, His Winnie Mae, and the World's First Pressure Suit." Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1971. Retrieved: 3 April 2009.
  • "Lockheed 5C Vega." Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved: April 3, 2009.
  • Onkst, David H. "Wiley Post." U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. Retrieved: 3 April 2009.
  • Post, Wiley.Around The World In Eight Days. New York: Crown Book, reprint 1989. ISBN 0-51757-352-0.
  • Sterling, Bryan and Frances. Forgotten Eagle: Wiley Post: America's Heroic Aviation Pioneer. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2001. ISBN 0-78670-894-8.
  • "Wiley Post.". Century of Flight. Retrieved: April 3, 2009.
  • "Wiley Post and the Winnie Mae.", 2003. Retrieved: April 3, 2009.

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