Rogers had long had a passion for aviation. He was what would come
to be known as a "flying enthusiast" and even recently named one of the Top
100 Stars of Aerospace" in a recent poll for by the members of the International
Council of Aeronautical Sciences (ICAS), despite never having piloted an
aircraft. In 1935 Will Rogers and Wiley Post took off on a flight that
would change the world forever.
Wiley Post was by now a world renowed aviator. Just
a few years prior he had flown around the world in only 8 days. Wiley
Post became interested in creating a mail and passenger air route from the
West Coast to Russia. Funded by the airlines, he began to make a hybrid
plane to accomplish his dream from two other wrecked planes. The low-wing
monoplane consisted of a Lockheed Orion fuselage and long wings from a Lockheed
Explorer. He installed a 550 HP Wasp engine, and oversize 260 gallon gas
tanks. He planned to add pontoons, to land in Alaska's and Siberia's many
His friend Will Rogers visited him frequently at the
Lockheed airport in Burbank where the strange beast took shape. Rogers called
the red-and-silver plane Aurora Borealis, but others called it "Wiley's Orphan"
or "Wiley's Bastard." However Post insisted that the plane didn't have or
need a name, just a number. When the pontoons he had ordered did not arrive,
he had a set installed that were designed for a much larger plane. Altogether
it was a dangerously heavy aircraft, which they loaded down further with
hunting and fishing equipment.
After a test flight in late July, 1935, Post and Rogers
left Seattle in the unique plane in early August. Rogers commented on the
huge pontoons, but Post dismissed his concerns.
Their itinerary for this flight was unusual as it
did not take a direct route and instead took them to the gold rush city of
Dawson. Experts think this was due to bad weather in the area. It
was said that Post and Rogers did not know the area and ventured into the
area in poor weather. They stopped at Point Barrow for fuel and then
planned on heading west to Russia.
While Post piloted the plane, Rogers banged out his
newspaper columns on his typewriter. On the way to Point Barrow, they became
lost in bad weather; they landed in a lagoon a few miles from Point Barrow
to ask directions. At this point experts can only speculate on what
happened. What we do know is that the engine quit when they tried to
take off again, and plane plunged into the lagoon, tearing off the right
wing, and killing both men instantly.
In truth, nobody really knows exactly what happened
on that tragic day. This so called experimental plane did have huge
fuel tanks and the plane was reported at be terribly tail heavy, especially
when loaded with fuel. Add that to the bad weather in conjunction with
a lack of knowledge of the area they were in and it was easy to see why the
:: GO BACK ::