Wednesday, July 22, 2015

First Solo Flight Around The World: Wiley Post - In 7 Days, 18 Hours, And 49 Minutes

One of the nation's most famous aviators, Wiley Post, completed this historic event today in 1933 when he returned to Fort Bennett Field after a near eight-day flight. Here is a map of the journey:

And here is what This Day In History ( says about the flight:

Two years earlier, Post had won fame when he successfully flew around the northern part of the earth with aviator Harold Gatty. For his solo around-the-world flight in 1933, he flew a slightly greater distance–15,596 miles–in less time. For both flights, he used the Winnie Mae, a Lockheed Vega monoplane that was equipped with a Sperry automatic pilot and a direction radio for Post’s solo journey.
His aircraft, Winnie Mae, was as well known as its pilot. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's summary description of the plane say this:

Flying this specially modified Lockheed 5C Vega, famed aviator Wiley Post set many records and pioneered several aviation technologies. In 1931 Post and navigator Harold Gatty flew it around the world in eight days, and in 1933 Post became the first to fly around the world solo, taking only seven days. In 1935, while wearing the world's first pressure suit, which he helped design, Post flew the Vega into the stratosphere, reaching 547 kilometers (340 miles) per hour while cruising in the jet stream. The Winnie Mae was named for the daughter of F. C. Hall, the original owner and a close friend of Post.
Designed by John K. "Jack" Northrop, the Lockheed Vega first flew in 1927. It was the first aircraft with the NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics] cowl, which streamlined the airflow around and through the engine. This decreased drag and increased power plant cooling.

Winnie Mae at her place of honor in the Time and Navigation exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC

Over the next two years Post explored the development of a suit for high altitude flight. During his experimental flights he became the first man to encounter the high speed air currents we know as jet streams. On August 15, 1935, he and the American cowboy humorist, Will Rogers, died in the crash of Post's hybrid Lockheed home-built aircraft while exploring the possibilities of an air mail route across Alaska. Below is a photograph of the pair taken shortly before their fatal accident:

Will Rogers (on wing) and Wiley Post (by prop) as they prepare to depart Point Barrow, AK, August 15, 1935

In many ways Post's interest in science, experimentation and controlled, powered flight mirrors that of the Wilbur and Orville Wright. The brothers' enabled Post to make his contribution to aviation history. And Post's work in turn continues to inspire and enable new pioneers to go higher, faster, and farther.



Photos and Illustrations:

Winnie Mae, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Post and Rogers, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division


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