OKLAHOMA – It was perhaps the first sight of an airplane for 15-year-old Wiley Post that propelled the Oklahoma youth into space. Watching a Curtiss “pusher” fly at the Lawton County (Oklahoma) Fair in 1913 changed Post’s life.
Wiley Hardeman Post was born on Nov. 22, 1898. He was the youngest of five children born to small-time cotton farmers.
The sight of that first plane not only ignited a passion for flying but Post went on to design a pressure suit that was a predecessor for test pilots’ and astronauts’ pressure suits. His early experimental flights ultimately proved the value of using the east-to-west jet stream, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Post, who died in 1935 with Oklahoma humorist Will Rogers, was testing the operational capabilities of a hybrid float plain when it crashed, killing both men.
Post’s legacy is seen today with his name on airports, hangars, and aeronautical schools.
His rise to fame began in 1930 when he won an air race between Chicago and Los Angeles. His first trip was chronicled in the 1931 book “Around the World in Eight Days: The Flight of the Winnie Mae”, the biography states.
The famed aircraft, Winnie Mae, is displayed in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. A full-size replica of the plane is displayed in the Oklahoma History Center building in Oklahoma City.
In 1933 Post shattered his around-the-world record with a time of seven days, eighteen hours, and forty-nine minutes. After his record-breaking flights, he experimented with high-altitude flying, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society biography.
In 1935 Wiley Post constructed a hybrid floatplane from a Lockheed Orion. The hybrid Orion proved to be aerodynamically unstable. Shortly after takeoff in the fog on August 15, 1935, Post lost control of the aircraft. It fatally crashed into the Walakpa Lagoon near Point Barrow, Alaska.
Post’s remains were transported to Oklahoma for burial. His body lay in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol and more than 15,000 visitors viewed his bronze coffin. His remains were interred at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Information for this story is from the Oklahoma Historical Society.