Wiley Post’s sad aviation lesson 82 years ago

wiley post 1935 crash
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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.

wiley post will rogers 1935

During the summer of 1935, Wiley Post and the famous American humorist, Will Rogers, ventured north to the territory. From left to right, Rogers, famous Alaskan musher Leonhard Seppala, Post, and famous bush pilot Joe Crosson stand near Post’s Lockheed monoplane on a floatplane dock on the Chena River near Fairbanks. Against Crosson’s advice, Post and Rogers pushed on from there and died in an airplane crash near Barrow.

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.

wiley post aviator

Wiley Post became one of America’s greatest aviators at the height of the Great Depression. Even with the loss of his left eye, Post was able to break numerous aeronautical records before his tragic death alongside Will Rogers in Alaska.


wiley post artifacts crash

These artifacts from Post’s fatal crash are on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.


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.

wiley post wreckage 1935

The wreckage of Wiley Post’s Lockheed Model 9E Orion hybrid airplane, NR12283, after the crash at Walakpa Lagoon, Alaska, 15 August 1935. (UPI)

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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3 Comments on "Wiley Post’s sad aviation lesson 82 years ago"

  1. My understanding is that Wiley landed in the lagoon to ask directions of the native fisherman on the shore. After he asked for the closes town he was told Point Barrow was about 15 miles north east. They climbed back into the plane and taxied for takeoff. Wiley banked hard to the right, engine stalled or quit and the airplane crashed striking the right wing first and cartwheeled one time.

  2. I am a nj freemason ex historian my then lodge franklin-century#10 so orange nj
    in a book, the history of century lodge f&am #100 it makes mention that a bro freemason from century#100,charles brower,(author of book -amazon sells it-50 degrees below zero,(the first white man to live in now point barrow ak) was the first person to rush to wiley post and brother mason will rogers plane crash, 8-15-35, trying (tho not knowing at that time who was in the plane that crashed)to assist (a brother freemason will rogers),i donated all my historic masonic items to the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons submitted PAUL STAHL

  3. Dale Fishel | May 8, 2020 at 10:53 pm | Reply

    Brower’s memoir also mentions that examination of the downed aircraft revealed totally empty fuel tanks. Further he implies that the information given Post that they were only 15 miles) from Barrow may have induced Post to try to reach there even knowing that he was dangerously low on fuel. The sad irony is that Brower had stockpiled enough fuel for Post that within a few hours it could have been taken to the lagoon and the accident avoided.

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