Wiley Post’s 1935 Crash
Safety Vigilance Should be the #1 Principle of all Flight
Aviation history is replete with moments to be remembered with pride (like Wiley Post record first around-the-world solo flight) and from which to learn –Post’s crash with passenger, Will Rogers, near Point Barrow, Alaska. The 1935 crash provides such a pedagogical moment.
Here is the National Air & Space Museum’s account of that event:
On August 15, 1935, in a plane crash near Point Barrow Alaska, famed aviator Wiley Post perished alongside his close friend, the renowned humorist and popular culture icon Will Rogers. With the exception of Charles Lindbergh, no American aviator of the time was as celebrated as Post, while Rogers was widely considered as the nation’s most gifted commentator on American society. Their loss impacted the two brightest spots in American culture during the Depression – aviation and film – and was especially devastating because of it.
The nation entered a state of mourning that it has rarely done outside of the death of presidents. Flags were ordered lowered to half-staff by federal and state authorities. 12,000 motion picture theater screens went dark for two minutes at 2:00 pm on August 22 in tribute. Famed German aviator Ernst Udet eulogized Post, stating, “I consider Post the greatest flier of all time. He was a real pioneer. He ranked first both as regards positive accomplishments and fruitfulness of new ideas. He was the most advanced and courageous man aviation has thus brought forth.” Newspaper editorials called on President Roosevelt to declare a national holiday and day of mourning. Hollywood studios attempted to ban their actors from flying – even if not currently filming a picture.
The airplane was a hybrid— the fuselage of a Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc., Lockheed Model 9E Orion Special, NC12283. The wing was replaced by a wing from a Lockheed Model 7 Explorer. The original engine was replaced with an air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Wasp S3H1 nine-cylinder radial engine. Post replaced the retractable landing gear with pontoons for water landings.
Lockheed engineers were of the opinion that the hybrid aircraft and the other modifications which were requested by Post were dangerous and refused to do the work.
Post and Rogers were on an aerial tour of Alaska. The fatal flight was nearing Point Barrow when enveloped their plane. Post decided to land the seaplane on Walakpa Bay, near Barrow. The pilot consulted with a local resident evidentially about the local terrain. He then taxied back on the lagoon and took off to the north. Post banked to the northwest when the engine stopped pitched down, rolled to the right, and then its right wing struck the mud. The right wing and pontoon were torn off and the airplane crashed upside down. Post and Rogers died.
The wreckage of Wiley Post’s Lockheed Model 9E Orion hybrid airplane, NR12283, after the crash at Walakpa Lagoon, Alaska, 15 August 1935. (UPI)
While the technical information from the 1935 crash is not as detailed as current investigations would produce, the causes might include mechanical failure and avoiding of rising terrain. Unfortunately, the possible errors are consistent with GA flying in Alaska.
Thus, this day in history, sadly, is a good reminder for the aviators’ in the 49th State need to exercise a high level of safety. Air transportation is essential for movement in this state and many pilots have overcome significant risks in these harsh conditions. However, those past wins over dangers should not become a habit. One of America’s most famous and accomplished pilots 82 years ago demonstrated that safety vigilance should be the #1 principle of all flight.
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