EXPLORATIONS - April 10, 2002: Wiley Post
By Paul Thompson
Now the VOA Special English program, explorations. Today Shirley Griffith and Doug Johnson tell about pilot
Wiley Post. He set new records when he flew his own airplane around the world in nineteen-thirty-three.
It was nineteen-thirty-three. Only six years earlier Charles Lindburgh became famous around the world as the
first person to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean. Now, a young pilot was trying to fly across Russia.
He had left Moscow several hours before. All he heard was the sound of the one engine that powered his plane.
Hour after hour the same sound. Now the weather was bad. He could not see much ahead, only the fog.
Flying in fog is very dangerous. Yet the sound of the engine made everything seem warm and safe. Then, out of
the fog he saw a mountain. He had only seconds to bring the airplane up.
It was a narrow escape, one of many he would have during his long flight.
The young pilot was Wiley Post. He was trying to fly around the world by himself. He made the trip in less than
eight days. He stopped eleven times for fuel, food and a little sleep.
Wiley Post made his famous flight in July, nineteen-thirty-three. Not many flight
instruments existed that could help him find his way. He was alone, fighting against sleep.
If he fell asleep he would die.
Nothing in Wiley Post's early years suggests that he would become a famous pilot. He was
born in Grand Saline, Texas, in eighteen-ninety-eight. His family were farmers.
In nineteen -thirteen, Wiley saw something that forever changed his life -- an airplane. After watching the plane
fly, young Wiley waited until most people had left the area. He then began inspecting and studying the plane. He
measured different parts of the plane with his hands. Many years later, Wiley Post would say that first airplane
was the most wonderful thing he had ever seen.
Wiley Post began to study everything he could find about flying. He began to educate himself about subjects such
as mathematics, radio and machinery. His self-education would continue the rest of his life.
Post finally rode in an airplane in nineteen-nineteen. At the time, many people believed all pilots were special
people. They believed it took special skills and courage to fly an airplane. But after his first ride, Wiley Post
knew that flying was something he could learn to do.
Wiley Post began his career in flying, not as a pilot, but as a performer who jumps from airplanes using a
parachute. He did this with a group that performed flying tricks to earn money. He jumped ninety-nine times in
two years with the flying show. When he was not jumping with a parachute, he was being taught how to fly by
pilots in the air show. But he could not fly as often as he liked.
Wiley Post then decided the only way to become a good pilot was to buy an airplane of his own. He needed more
money than he earned in the flying show. He went to work in the oil-producing areas of Texas. But he damaged
his left eye in an accident. Doctors had to remove his eye.
At first, Post thought his days as a pilot were ended. A pilot needs to be able to judge distance. Judging distance
is difficult without two eyes. It seems impossible to tell how big objects are and how far away.
Wiley Post began teaching himself to judge distance with only one eye. He worked hard at training his eye and
brain to tell the correct distance. It took a long time, but he succeeded. He continued to fly and soon became a
very good pilot.
In nineteen-twenty-eight, he got a job flying the plane that belonged to a rich oil producer from Oklahoma. The
man's name was F.C. Hall. He bought a new airplane for Post to fly. Mister Hall named the airplane the "Winnie
Mae" after one of his daughters.
F.C. Hall told Post he could use the plane to enter flight competitions. Post did. In nineteen-thirty, he entered the
national air races. The race called for flying without stopping from Los Angeles in the western state of California,
to the city of Chicago, in the middle western state of Illinois.
Post won the race. He defeated several well known pilots. It was the first time the public heard the name Wiley
Post was not really interested in racing airplanes. He wanted to be the first person to fly around the world. Many
pilots had talked about trying to made such a flight. But no one had done it.
Post believed he would need someone to help him in the effort. He chose an Australian man, Harold Gatty, to do
the mathematics that decided the plane's direction. Post would fly the plane. On June twenty-third, nineteen-
thirty-one, Post and Gatty took off from Roosevelt Field in New York. They returned to Roosevelt Field eight
days, fifteen hours and fifty-one minutes later. They had flown around the world.
At first every one was very happy. Wiley Post and Harold Gatty were heroes. Then many people began to say
that Post was nothing more than an airplane driver because he had no real education. They said Gatty was the real
hero. He had guided the flight. Both men knew they had made the flight as a team. Others did not recognize this.
This hurt Post.
Wiley Post began to plan another flight around the world. This time he would go alone.
Wiley Post knew that any effort has a good chance of success if the person planning the task is well prepared. So
he worked hard to prepare well. He used the most modern equipment possible. He made sure the engine on the
Winnie Mae was perfect. And to prepare himself, he went without sleep for long periods of time.
On July fifteenth, nineteen-thirty-three, Post took off from Floyd Bennett Field in New York. His first stop would
be Berlin, Germany. He landed in Berlin twenty -six hours later. He became the first person to fly from New York
to Berlin without stopping.
After a little food for himself and fuel for the Winnie Mae, Post was once again in the air. This time he was
headed for Russia. For long hours he flew, listening only to the sound of his engine. Often, the weather was so
bad he could not see where he was. At one point he came so close to running out of gas he considered using his
parachute. But at the last minute he found a place to land and get gas.
The flight across the huge width of Russia was difficult. He made several stops for gas and a few hours rest
before flying across the Bering Sea to Alaska.
By now, he was very tired. To keep himself awake as he flew east during the long night, Post tied a piece of
string to one finger. The other end of the string was tied to a heavy aircraft tool. He held the tool in his hand. If he
started to fall asleep, the tool would fall from his hand. The string would pull his finger and wake him.
From Fairbanks, Alaska, he flew to Edmonton, Canada, and then on toward New York.
More than fifty-thousand people waited at Floyd Bennett Field. Wiley Post gently landed the Winnie Mae long
after dark. He had flown around the world in seven days, eighteen-hours and forty-nine minutes.
Thousands of excited people rushed toward the plane. Wiley Post was a hero. He had become the most famous
pilot in America.
In nineteen -thirty-five, only two years after his around the world record flight, Wiley Post was killed in a flying
accident in Alaska.
Before Post's death, the government of the United States had bought the Winnie Mae. It is owned by the
Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington, D-C.
Many pilots have flown around the world since Wiley Post made his flight. His record was first broken only
few years after his death. Since that time many records for the trip have been made and broken.
Yet what Wiley Post did can never really be done again. No pilot today would try to make the flight in an
airplane like the Winnie Mae. No one would try it with the flight instruments he used. And, no on would want to
copy his flight around the world ... alone.
This Special English program was written by Paul Thompson. This is Shirley Griffith.
And this is Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for another explorations program on the Voice of America.
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