Today is all about Wiley Post, the first person to fly around the world solo, and I think you will enjoy my story about an aviation pioneer who accomplished more in seven years than most do in a life time. So, let’s begin with a few facts about his early life, followed by a quick video, and a few words from his brother. Then I will wrap it up with a few more facts, and a link to a book titled, “Wiley Post, His Winnie Mae, and the World’s First Pressure Suit,” that you can download and read at your leisure.
Wiley Hardeman Post was born near Grand Saline, Texas in 1898 and moved to Oklahoma five years later. He became enamored with planes as a youth and dreamed of becoming a pilot. His introduction to flying came when a barnstorming troop came to Oklahoma and he filled in for an injured skydiver. Post went to work in the oil fields to earn enough money to buy his own plane. His plans were nearly derailed when he lost an eye in a work-related accident. As a result, Post had trouble with depth-perception, but ultimately he trained himself to gauge distances accurately with one eye. He took the accident compensation, about $1800, and bought his first airplane. In it he gave flying lessons, flew oilmen to their rigs, barnstormed on the weekends, and on June 27, 1927 he eloped from Sweetwater, Texas with Miss Mae Laine.
In 1928 Post became the personal pilot to F.C. Hall, an Oklahoma oilman. It was in Hall’s plane the “Winnie Mae” that Post won the National Air Race from Los Angeles to Chicago in 1930; the first of many accomplishments in the famous aircraft. On June 23, 1931 he and Australian navigator, Harold Gatty, took off from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, with the goal of breaking the record for flying around the world. Eight days, fifteen hours and fifty-one minutes later, the pair touched down again at Roosevelt Field after circling the globe and smashing the previous record of 20 days and four hours. The pair became instant heroes. In July 1933, Post attempted another around-the-world record, only this time he flew solo. He equipped his plane with a Sperry gyroscope and a radio direction finder. He made the trip in seven days, eighteen hours and forty-nine minutes breaking his own record.
In 1934 Post designed his “Man from Mars” flying suit, the world’s first practical pressure suit, and made an unofficial ascent to 49,000 feet. The suit facilitated his exploration of the sub-stratosphere and helped pioneer high-altitude flight. Wiley Post predicted the development of aircraft that would provide supersonic transport and the possibility of space travel. He recognized the importance of biological rhythms and the effects of fatigue on pilot proficiency and was one of the first to conduct research in this area.
Post’s final flight was with his friend, American humorist and aviation enthusiast, Will Rogers. Rogers had asked Post to fly him through Alaska so that he could gather new material for his newspaper column. When Post and Rogers took off for Point Barrow, Alaska, on August 15, 1935, the plane’s engine stalled and the aircraft plummeted into a lake.
During his lifetime, Post received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1932 by an act of Congress and won the Collier Trophy in the same year. In 1934 he won the Gold Medal of Belgium and the Harmon trophy. He was given two, New York City ticker-tape parades and the keys to the City. He was honored twice at the White House by two Presidents – Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
From his record-breaking flights to his innovations and explorations, Wiley Post made many vital contributions that advanced the science and theory of flight and made him one of the most celebrated pilots in aviation history.
At this point I think the best way to recap Wiley’s life is to let Wiley’s Brother tell you of his brother’s accomplishments:
Many rewarding, and some unrewarding, experiences evolve from being the brother of a world-renowned figure. All close relations are extremely proud of the accomplishments and contributions of near and dear kin. Yet, none desire to bask in reflected glory.
Wiley Post, in a short span of seven years, rose from a laborer in the Oklahoma oil fields to a person of world prominence. He was acclaimed world hero by Presidents, the man on the street, and all who knew of his daring achievements in the field of aeronautical science.
Wiley was a barnstormer, speed flier, test pilot, globe conqueror, and a pioneer of pressurized flight. He was twenty years ahead of the field in his thinking with regard to advancement of aviation, and he envisioned the development of air transportation far beyond any dreams of his contemporaries.
At an early age he flew into eternity, accompanied by his close friend Will Rogers, who was known throughout the world as a great humanitarian, the sage of Oklahoma, world citizen, and one who had humble regard for the well being of his fellow man.
It is difficult for me to think of Wiley as a researcher, a pioneer in the field of science, and an explorer in the realm of space. Rather, I remember him as a companion on hot summer nights when we fished and slept on the banks of the Washhita River; during the golden-leafed autumn days when we stalked white-tailed deer in the Big Bend country of Texas; and on the windy wintry days when we hunted ducks on Lake Kickapoo.
This is the way I best remember him, for he was my brother
Before I wrap it up with the link to the book I would like you to read, I want to talk about the first pressure suit in aviation.
Wiley was seeking to break high-altitude and speed records. Wiley, as well as others, knew that protection against low pressure was essential. Post’s solution was a suit that could be pressurized by his airplane engine’s supercharger.
First attempts at building a pressure suit failed since the suit became rigid and immobile when pressurized. Post discovered he couldn’t move inside the inflated suit, much less work airplane controls. A later version succeeded with the suit constructed already in a sitting position. This allowed Wiley to place his hands on the airplane controls and his feet on the rudder bars. Moving his arms and legs was difficult, but not impossible. To provide visibility, a viewing port was part of the rigid helmet placed over Post’s head.
So, for the record, let’s list a few of his many accomplishments:
Wiley was man of distinction, an aviation pioneer, and a man of science. I hope you enjoyed this week’s article and I hope that you will take some time to review the book which is linked below. Have a good weekend, keep your friends and family close, and fly safe/be safe.
January 20, 2023