Wiley Post was one of the world’s great pioneers of aviation, but his name is largely unknown today outside of the aviation community. A giant of the Golden Age of aviation, Post took part in air races, experimented with high altitude flight, helped develop pressure suits for pilots, and discovered the jet stream along the way. In 1930, he teamed up with navigator Harold Gatty to fly a Lockheed Vega owned by Oklahoma oilman Florence Hall and named Winnie Mae, around the world, a voyage they completed in just eight days. The previous record of 21 days was set in 1929 by the Graf Zeppelin.
When Post and Gatty returned, they chronicled their journey in a book that took inspiration for it’s title from Jules Verne, who wrote about intrepid voyager Phileas Fogg who took ten times as long to circumnavigate the globe in 1872. Needless to say, much had changed in 58 years. First published in 1931, Around the World in Eight Days tells the story of Post’s and Gatty’s flight from New York to Newfoundland, across the Atlantic, then over Europe and Russia, and finally back to New York via Alaska and Canada. Each chapter covers a different leg of the journey, and alternates in the telling between Post and Gatty. There is also a facsimile of Gatty’s flight log.
Three years later, Post made the circumnavigation again, but this time he left Gatty at home and used an autopilot and compass rather than a navigator. Not only was Post the first to fly around the world solo, he also shaved nearly an entire day off his previous record. Sadly, Post died in 1935 at age 36 while flying in Alaska with his good friend, American humorist and author Will Rogers. Post was flying a floatplane he had cobbled together from a Lockheed Model 9 Orion and a Lockheed Explorer (Lockheed refused to have any part in building the airplane). The travelers became lost, and Post landed to ask for directions. On takeoff, the engine failed, and the nose-heavy plane flipped over in the water, killing them both.
Post is one of my Golden Age heroes. His exploits, and yes, his death, epitomize both the adventure and danger of aviation at that era, when the extraordinarily rapid development of the airplane was shrinking the world dramatically. Consider this: a mere 27 years had passed between the Wright Brothers’ first flight in their open frame, wood and cloth Wright Flyer, and Wiley Post’s circumnavigation with Harold Gatty in the powerful Vega monoplane. And in just 17 more years, Chuck Yeager would break the sound barrier. To say I’m looking forward to reading this book would be an understatement.