Wiley Post wanted to be a pilot after seeing his first airplane at a county fair at the age of 15. He got his break at age 24, when a barnstormer let him fill in for his injured skydiver. Post performed several jumps, but always wanted to be the pilot, not the skydiver. In 1926, while working in an oil field during the off-season, Wiley Post lost his left eye in as accident. Despite the lack of depth perception, Post was able to earn his pilot’s license and, with his workers’ compensation checks, bought his first airplane. He often served as the personal pilot for entrepreneurs. Post’s success allowed him to move on to a larger single-engine aircraft in 1930, one of the fastest of the era – a Lockheed Vega nicknamed “Winnie Mae” by the plane’s owner, F.C. Hall. Post won the National Air Race Derby by flying from Los Angeles to Chicago in 9 hours and 8 minutes. With the success, Hall allowed Post to use the plane to pursue any air records he wished.
Post soon set his sights on making it all the way around the world. Teaming up with Harold Gatty, his long-time navigator, he took off from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York in late June 1931. Covering well over 15,000 miles in less than 9 days, Post and Gatty smashed the previous world record of 21 days set by the Graf Zeppelin airship in 1929. Post bought the Winnie Mae from Hall and began planning to start an educational program for aspiring pilots. He spent much of 1932 making alterations to the plane, including the installation of an autopilot and a radio direction finder – an early precursor to radar.
On July 14th 1933, the Winnie Mae lifted off the ground at Floyd Bennett Field in New York City, flying east to Berlin and then over Russia, Alaska and Canada on his way back to the same airport some 7 days and 19 hours later. Despite stopping for numerous repairs (and to replace maps he’d forgotten to bring along), Post bested his own record by 21 hours. Just as he had after his flight with Gatty, he was paraded through the streets showered with ticker-tape and revered as a hero.