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Mon, Jul 21, 2003

Remembering An Era Of Aviation Pioneers

Wiley Posts's Around-The-World Solo Flight

Millions of Americans were following closely on radio and in special newspaper editions on July 21, 1933, as aviation history was being made. Noted pilot Wiley Post was nearing the end of the first solo flight around the world.

Harold Gatty had set the around-the-world record in 1931 at 8 days, 15 hours and 51 minutes. Two years later, Post, flying solo in his Lockheed Vega, Winnie Mae, beat his earlier record by 21 hours. Post fought Atlantic fog, Russian thunderstorms, equipment problems and his own fatigue to set the incredible record. Five years later, it took Howard Hughes flying a twin-engined Lockheed with a crew of four to beat the one-eyed pilot's record.

Post took off from Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, on July 15, 1933. Aboard the Winnie Mae were two new devices--a Sperry gyroscope and a radio direction finder--that would make his flight without a navigator that much easier. The gyroscope automatically corrected the plane if it deviated from a particular bearing, while the radio direction finder helped the pilot navigate toward certain distinct radio transmitters. Although Post had problems with his gyroscope and he suffered another bent propeller, he repaired both items and stuck to his predicted pace. The result was a new around-the-world record of 7 days 18 hours and 49 minutes. Post had bettered his previous record by 21 hours.

The Winnie Mae is displayed in the National Air and Space Museum.

Post was fascinated by high-altitude flight and reached an unofficial altitude of 55,000 feet in 1934. His flights pioneered the use of high-altitude flight suits, superchargers and pressurized ignition systems for stratospheric flight. His plane was fitted with two special superchargers to provide pressure to his flight suit and to his engine.

Early in 1935, Post and fellow Oklahoman, Will Rogers, planned a leisurely around-the-world flight. Post elected to fly a modified Lockheed Orion, rather than his beloved Winnie Mae. Both were killed departing Point Barrow (AK) when the engine quit shortly after take-off.



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