Wiley Post Gets His Props

Why can’t the first pilot to circumnavigate the globe get any respect?

Winnie Mae Historic
Aviator Wiley Post under the wing of the Winnie Mae (1933). Courtesy of the Rudy Arnold Photo Collection/NASM, SI

Wiley Post is the Rodney Dangerfield of pilots. He gets absolutely no respect from people today. Sure, everyone knows who Charles Lindbergh is–he was the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic, right? But Wiley Post did Lindy a few continents better, and flew around the entire world by himself. But it’s crickets when his name is mentioned.

Now granted, it would have been cooler if Post had done it non-stop, but give the guy a little leeway, it was 1933. And it took nearly 80 years for someone to finally accomplish a non-stop, solo, round-the-world flight, when in 2005, the late millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett did so in a balloon.

Winnie Mae Historic
Aviator Wiley Post under the wing of the Winnie Mae (1933). Courtesy of the Rudy Arnold Photo Collection/NASM, SI

So make sure to raise a glass to Wiley Post, because 77 years ago today, in 1933, he landed in Brooklyn, NY, completing his historic world-circling flight in his trusty customized Lockheed 5C Vega, the Winnie Mae. No navigator? No problem.

Since the previous time Post had flown around the world (June, 1931) with navigator Harold Gatty, Post had pimped his ride with a newly-developed autopilot device to allow for some "me time." Of course, that's not to say that Mr. Autopilot was infallible, as it broke down several times and required repairs during his journey. But after 7 days and 19 hours and multiple pit stops in locations including Berlin, Moscow, Irkutsk, and Edmonton, Post returned to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn and an eventual ticker tape parade in New York.

Wiley Post's Winnie Mae on display at the Udvar Hazy Center. Courtesy NASM, SI

Sadly, Wiley Post would go on to perish two years later in 1935, at the age of thirty-six, when he crashed in an airplane that he had built himself during a take-off near Point Barrow, Alaska. Friend and humorist, Will Rogers was riding shotgun at the time, and was also killed in the accident. Perhaps if Post hadn't killed the man who never met a man he didn't like, he'd be better remembered today...

You can make sure that Post is not forgotten by visiting the Udvar-Hazy Center and checking out the Winnie Mae.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that Post set off from Brooklyn, NY, rather than landed there. It has since been corrected. Thanks to Twitter follower @sluggernova for bringing the error to our attention

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