Eighty-one years ago, on June 23, 1931, aviators Wiley Post and Harold Gatty took off in a single-engine Lockheed Vega airplane named the "Winnie Mae" from Roosevelt Field in New York on a record-breaking, round-the-world flight.
Due to the lack of suitable airfields nearer the equator, they followed a 15,737-mile course across Europe, Russia, and Siberia, and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a record time of 16 hours and 17 minutes. They continued flying to Berlin, Moscow, and Khabarovsk, crossed the Bering Sea, landed on a beach near Solomon, Alaska, flew to Edmonton, Alberta, and finally arrived back at Roosevelt Field after 8 days, 15 hours, and 51 minutes.
The world record for circumnavigating the globe had been set at 21 days by the Graf Zeppelin airship. On July 2, 1931, Gatty and Post received a tickertape parade in New York City. A year later, Congress passed a bill allowing civilians to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, and President Hoover pinned the medals on the two record-breaking aviators.
Born in Tasmania in 1903, Harold Charles Gatty was an Australian navigator, inventor, and aviation pioneer who Charles Lindbergh called the Prince of Navigators. He formed the South Seas Commercial Company in 1934. But the company was soon sold to Pan Am. During World War II, Gatty was given the honorary rank of group captain in the Royal Australian Air Force and worked for the US Army Air Forces in the South Pacific.
Born in Texas, Post began as a parachutist for a flying circus and became well-known on the barnstorming circuit. On October 1, 1926, an accident in an oil field cost him his left eye, and he used the settlement money to buy a plane. Post helped develop one of the first pressure suits. On August 15, 1935, he and American humorist Will Rogers were killed when Post's plane crashed on takeoff from a lagoon near Point Barrow in the Territory of Alaska.