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Don Lee: One-eyed aviator Wiley Post met his sad end in Alaska

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don Lee is taking a break from his column this week. The following is a piece that originally was published on Nov. 26, 2017.

A little more history this week, did you ever hear of Wiley Post? He was an aviation pioneer that did not get much publicity.

He was one of those people who really did not like regular school.

He only went to school through the sixth grade, and if you believe the biography, that was a stretch.

When he was young, the family moved a lot causing him to be in a lot of different schools. His father did a lot of trading farms. Wiley became very interested in mechanical things.

As a teenager, he was called on a lot from neighbors and friends to repair their farm equipment.

He was totally enthralled by a plane, a Curtis Pusher, that was demonstrating flying at the county fair.

He scraped up enough money to get one ride of acrobatic instruction by the barnstormer. It cost him $25 to get the instruction, which was a lot of money in those early days of the 20th century.

He heard of this school, the Sweeny Automobile and Aviation School, and he was able to work and make enough money to take the courses and passed all the classes as the top student.

He did not like math in regular school, but when he saw that it was useful, he did very well.

Wiley lost his left eye in an accident while working as a “roughneck” in the oil fields of Oklahoma, it never bothered him in his flying career.

He established many new records, including the first person to fly solo around the world. He did it in less than eight days.

He also had one of the first autopilots.

Earlier, he had circumnavigated the world with a navigator in 21 days.

He also did a lot of high altitude experimenting. He flew as high as 50,000 feet and was the first person to discover the jet streams.

He also experimented with pressurized suits at those altitudes.

He was continuing to do high altitude experiments in trying to fly across the country, but he failed to make it all the way in three attempts, he took a break from the high-altitude experiments to explore the possibility of flying cargo and people from California through Alaska to Russia.
Will Rogers asked to go along to gather information for his newspaper.

In the 1930s, I remember seeing Will’s quotes every day on the front page of our newspaper.

Wiley, since he was short on money, put together a seaplane from parts of wrecked planes.

He tried to get Lockheed to put together, but they would not do it because they thought it was unsafe and it turned out they were right.

Wiley and Will made it all right to Fairbanks where they took off for Point Barrow.

They got lost and landed in a lagoon to asked directions.

This plane was very nose heavy and without the engine running, it was uncontrollable.

As they were taking off from this lagoon, the engine stopped and they crashed inverted in the lagoon, which killed them both.

Promising careers for two people perished with this crash.

Don Lee, a pilot flying out of Lawrence County Airport since 1970, has been in charge of equipment and grounds maintenance for the last several years. He can be reached at eelnod22@gmail.com