Wiley Post: First Solo Flight around the World, in 1933

He’s a forgotten American hero now, one whose legacy does not shine as brightly as Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart. However, aviation pioneer Wiley Post was every inch the hero when 50,000 excited fans thronged New York’s Floyd Bennett Field on 22 July 1933 to greet Post as he came in for a landing, the first person to fly solo around the world!

Photo: Wiley Post, American aviator. Glass eye worn for portrait, 6 July 1931
Photo: Wiley Post, American aviator. Glass eye worn for portrait, 6 July 1931. Credit: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In his famous plane Winnie Mae, Post circled the globe in 7 days, 18 hours and 49 minutes, beating by 21 hours the world record he had set two years earlier accompanied by his navigator, Harold Gatty. The conquering hero was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City.

Post was perhaps an unlikely hero even during his time. The son of poor Oklahoma farmers, he was not highly educated and marked by a patch over his left eye, lost during an oil field accident in 1926. Post used the settlement money from that accident to buy his first airplane, which is how he met famous actor, columnist and humorist Will Rogers, also from Oklahoma, when he flew Rogers to a rodeo.

The two became close friends, their lives forever intertwined when they died together on 15 August 1935, when Post’s plane crashed near Point Barrow, Alaska. The two friends were taking a leisurely flight around Alaska when they died; there was no record being pursued. Post was only 36.

For his 1933 solo flight around the world, Post used an innovative autopilot mechanism and a radio direction finder to replace his navigator Gatty. The autopilot device needed service in Berlin, Moscow and Irkutsk, but otherwise things went well on his record-setting flight. He arrived at the New York airfield to the cheering throng and his waiting wife, completely exhausted – but safe and successful. The world record was his.

The following two newspaper articles describe Post’s record-setting solo flight around the world. The first describes his landing and his accomplishment. The second, written earlier, describes his physical and mental state as he left Edmonton in Canada for the final 2,200-mile “hop” to the finish line in New York.

An article about Wiley Post, Trenton Evening Times newspaper article 23 July 1933
Trenton Evening Times (Trenton, New Jersey), 23 July 1933, page 1

Here is a transcription of this article:

Post Arrives in New York, Smashing World Hop Mark;
Flyer in Exhausted Condition

Girds Globe in 186 Hours and 49 Minutes

Swoops Down in Quick Time

Asks for Eye Patch; Driven Away from Crowds

NEW YORK, July 22 (AP). – Wiley Post, shooting across North America in a whirlwind finish to his world flight, whizzed down out of the darkness tonight for a new globe-circling record.

The stocky Oklahoman, smiling but on the verge of exhaustion, landed his purple-trimmed monoplane at Floyd Bennett Field at 10:59.30 P.M. (Eastern Standard Time) after a grueling 2,200-mile hop from Edmonton, Canada.

He completed the hop in 186 hours and 49 minutes.

He shattered by more than 21 hours the time he and Harold Gatty established two summers ago, and promptly announced he could do it again – even more quickly.

“Given a break in the weather,” Post told friends while he was resting at a hotel, “I could take the Winnie Mae, with the same equipment, and break my new record by making the trip in four days and a half.”

Nearly 50,000 cheering men and women pressed around the plane the instant it taxied down the field, but the tired pilot saw only one.

“Hello, ma,” he said to his wife in a soft voice. “I’m pretty tired.”

Whisked to Hotel

That was all Post had to say while he sat in his ship for several minutes before he was whisked into an automobile for a dash across Brooklyn to his New York hotel. He did pause for a moment to get a new eye patch for his left eye.

He and Mrs. Post were separated in the car by other passengers, but the airman reached over and patted her shoulder. She pressed his hand.

“I went to sleep at least 20 times between Edmonton and New York,” Post said to a group of intimate friends who sat with him in his suite while he relaxed.

“But every time I would doze and drop the stick, I would wake up with a start. I do not know what makes an airman do this, but whenever the stick is dropped, he comes to.”

Asked about the operation of his robot pilot, Post said: “The automatic pilot functioned much better on the last lap of the trip. I had only three decent hours flying up to the time I reached Edmonton. One of these was before I reached Moscow and the other two were after I left there.

Good Weather at Last

“The weather between Edmonton and New York today and tonight, however, was good until I passed Toronto. After that, I ran into a few thunderstorms and mist as I passed over New York State.”

Post revived surprisingly during the ride to the hotel. A doctor who examined him pronounced his condition generally good, with a normal heartbeat.

“Don’t need it yet,” commented Post laconically when somebody suggested he get some sleep at once.

While a light supper was being prepared, Post took a shower. On the way into the city he had consumed food and coffee brought to the field by his wife.

Gatty, the companion of his first world flight, was in the car with him, as was Walter Harrison, managing editor of the Daily Oklahoman.

The [50,000] persons who had gathered at the field to witness the end of Post’s epochal flight seemed stunned by the suddenness with which he appeared. He had not been sighted for some time and was not expected for one or two hours.

As soon as the thousands were aware that it was the Winnie Mae coming down in the centre of the field, they made such a rush that about 8,000 of them broke through police lines and ran toward the monoplane. Post had to stall his motor to prevent possible injury to his well-wishers.

The airport manager, explaining the confusion of the landing, said that “everybody was caught flat-footed.”

“I personally didn’t know Post was within 100 miles of the field,” he declared.

The aviator did not circle the lights, as he had been expected to, but flashed right down to a landing.

Plane Grows Famous

The Winnie Mae became the “Winnie Did” for the second time.

When Post and Gatty drove the purple and white monoplane around the world in 1931 to establish a record it was former Mayor James J. Walker who referred to it as the “Winnie Did.”

The plane is three years old this month, having been delivered in July, 1930, to F. C. Hall of Oklahoma City, by whom Post was then employed as private pilot and from whom he bought it after his flight with Gatty.

It first achieved aerial fame by winning the Los Angeles-Chicago race of the national air races in August, 1930, when Post flew it at an average speed of 192 miles an hour.

Plane Was Rebuilt

Rebuilt and completely fitted out with the latest appurtenances for its latest venture, the Winnie Mae, which was named for Hall’s daughter, Mrs. Leslie Fain, is equipped with an automatic robot pilot and a controllable-pitch propeller.

The latter contrivance gives the pilot all the advantage of an automobile transmission, with an infinite instead of a fixed variety of speeds.

Technically, the Winnie Mae is a cabin monoplane, with cantilever, internally braced, high wing. It has a span of 41 feet and is 28 feet in overall length. Its fuselage is white, trimmed in two tones of purple. The landing gear is streamlined with “pants.”

It is powered with an S-101 “Wasp” engine which, supercharged to 550 horsepower, gives it a cruising speed of 170 miles an hour. Conservation of fuel made possible by the controllable-pitch propeller has lowered the gas consumption at cruising speed to approximately 20 gallons an hour. This, with a 650 gallon gas capacity, gives it a time range of 32½ hours and, at cruising speed in still air, a theoretic distance range of 5,525 miles.

Loaded for its 3,900-mile nonstop flight to Berlin, it weighed about 6,700 pounds.

Four Records Broken by Globe-Circling Flier

Wiley Post set four records on his dash around the world. He made:

  • The fastest trip around the world.
  • The first solo flight around the world.
  • The first solo flight across the Pacific Ocean.
  • The fastest flight from New York to Berlin, 3,900 miles in 25 hours and 45 minutes.

In addition he was the first solo trans-Atlantic flier since Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh to reach his announced destination without a stop.

EDMONTON, Alta, July 22 (AP). – Wiley Post set the Winnie Mae down here long enough today to ice an aching head, catch a 30-minute nap and refuel, and then he soared upward into the homestretch of what he hopes will be a double record-breaking flight around the world.

He expected to arrive in New York – from which he flew eastward a week ago – around midnight.

Arriving here from Fairbanks at 8:07 A.M., Eastern Standard Time, he was 10 hours and 45 minutes ahead of the record which was set by himself and Harold Gatty in 1931. By leaving at 9:41, an hour and 34 minutes later, he increased the lead to 20 hours and 12 minutes. He was determined, “if I can make it,” to cover the final 2,200 miles to New York in one hop. Three hours and 19 minutes after his takeoff here, a plane believed to be the Winnie Mae, flying very high and at great speed, was sighted over Humboldt, Saskatchewan, 360 miles eastward.

His overnight hop from Fairbanks, where he took off at 10:45 P.M., Eastern Standard Time, yesterday, left him greatly fatigued but failed to dampen his ardor for hurry.

Lands in Driving Rain

He brought his plane down on Blatchford Field in a driving rain. Three thousand persons, most of them there through the night, were on hand to see him. His head ached and he had been deafened by the continuous roar of his motor.

He wanted neither food nor sleep.

“I just want to get going,” he said.

Airport officials told him he could expect a tail wind all the way back to New York.

“I can stand it,” he said.

Refuses Warm Food

He refused some warm food, refused a shower, but took a glass of ice water and finally allowed them to lead him to an upstairs room of the airport building for a 30-minute nap. Physicians examined him and pronounced him fit. To relieve his headache, they put an ice pack on his head while he rested.

Refreshed by the short sleep, he praised the orderliness of the crowd and discussed his hop from Fairbanks. Bad weather, he said, provided him with a “big worry.” He said the robot pilot, with which he had had difficulty early in the flight, “worked okay.”

The rain stopped and the sun broke through the clouds before he climbed into the cockpit of his plane. There was cheer in his manner.

“Maybe the weather change pepped me up,” he said, and then: “I’ve got to get going; I’m in a hurry.”

Ship Rises Easily

The Winnie Mae roared, slid down the Portage Avenue pavement and rose into the clear eastern sky.

Before Post climbed into his plane he was introduced to one of the crimson-coated mounted policemen there to guard him.

“You know,” he said, “I always did want to be a mountie.”

Somebody told him that people were saying he would retire as soon as he broke the record set by himself and Gatty.

“Tell them to jump in a lake,” he flung out.

He said he was glad that the bad lands of Siberia were behind him and that he felt better than he did when he was in Edmonton with Gatty.

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