WILEY POST Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Wiley Hardeman Post (November 22, 1898 - August 15, 1935) gained international fame as 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 airplane, the Winnie Mae, and his pressure suit are displayed at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, USA. 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 Van Zandt County, Texas, but his family moved to Oklahoma when he was five. His aviation career began at age 26 as a parachutist for a flying circus, Burell Tobbs and His Texas Topnotch Fliers, and he became well known on the barnstorming circuit.


In 1926, an oil field accident cost him his left eye, but he used the settlement money to buy his first airplane. 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 to Chicago. 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 an airplane, 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 York in the Winnie Mae with a flight plan that would take them around the world, making fourteen stops along the way in Newfoundland, England, Germany, the Soviet Union, Alaska, Alberta, Canada and Cleveland, Ohio before returning to Roosevelt Field. They arrived back on July 1 after travelling 15,474 miles in the record time of 8 days and 15 hours and 51 minutes.


The reception they received rivalled 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 airplane 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, 1934, 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.


Final flight


Post became interested in 1935 in surveying a mail-and-passenger air route from the West Coast of the United States to Russia. Short on cash, he built a plane using parts salvaged from two wrecks and planned to add pontoons for landing in the lakes of Alaska and Siberia. His friend Will Rogers often visited him at the airport in Burbank, California while he was building the plane and asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of new material for his newspaper column.


When the pontoons Post had ordered did not arrive, he used a set that was designed for a much larger plane, making his plane dangerously heavy, especially when further loaded down with hunting and fishing equipment. 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. A few miles from Point Barrow, Alaska, they became lost in bad weather and landed in a lagoon to ask directions. The engine quit when they tried to take off again, and the plane plunged into the lagoon, tearing off the right wing, and killing both men instantly.


Memorials and awards


In 1936, the Smithsonian Institution acquired the Winnie Mae from Post’s widow. Two monuments at the crash site commemorate the death of the two men and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


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).