22 July 1933: At 11:50½ p.m., Wiley Hardeman Post and his Lockheed Model 5C Vega, NR105W, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma, landed at Floyd Bennett Field, Long Island, New York.
Post had departed from there on 15 July and in 7 days, 18 hours, 49½ minutes, he flew 15,596 miles (25,099.3 kilometers), circling the Northern Hemisphere. He made 11 stops for fuel and rest, and had one minor accident which required repairs to the airplane. (Note the Standard propeller clearly visible in the photograph below.)
In 1931, he had flown approximately the same route, with a navigator, Harold Gatty, aboard. For this flight Post was by himself.
This was the first solo around-the-world flight. Wiley Post was the first pilot to have flown around the world twice.
The Vega was a single-engine, high-wing monoplane was designed by John Knudsen (“Jack”) Northrop and Gerrard Vultee. It was a very state-of-the-art aircraft for its time. It used a streamlined monocoque fuselage made of spiral strips of vertical grain spruce pressed into concrete molds and held together with glue. The wing and tail surfaces were fully cantilevered, requiring no bracing wires or struts to support them.
The techniques used to build the Vega were very influential in aircraft design. It also began Lockheed’s tradition of naming its airplanes after stars and other astronomical objects.
The Winnie Mae was built by Lockheed Aircraft Company at Burbank, California in 1930 as a Model 5B Vega, serial number 122. It was purchased by an Oklahoma oil driller, Florence C. (“F.C.”) Hall, on 21 June 1930, and named for his daughter, Winnie Mae Hall, The Winnie Mae of Oklahoma. The new airplane was painted white with purple trim. In 1932, NC105W was modified to the Vega 5C standard.
The Lockheed Model 5C Vega is 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). Its empty weight is 2,595 pounds (1,177 kilograms) and gross weight is 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms).
Winnie Mae was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.80-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C, serial number 3088, a single-row, nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long with a diameter of 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).
The standard Model 5C had a cruise speed of 165 miles per hour (266 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) and range in standard configuration was 725 miles (1,167 kilometers).
Wiley Post flew the Winnie Mae for F.C. Hall, and flew it around the world in 1931 with Harold Gatty as navigator. Post used it to set several speed records and to compete in the National Air Races. Post purchased the airplane from Hall, 8 July 1931.
When the Vega and its Wasp engine had reached 745 hours of operation, they were overhauled by Braniff Airways at Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The Wasp C was modified with cylinders from a Wasp C1. This increased the compression ratio from 5.25:1 to 6.0:1. Using 87-octane aviation gasoline, it could produce 500 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. (5-minute limit). The airplane’s original two-bladed Standard fixed-pitch steel propeller was later replaced by a Smith 450-SI controllable-pitch propeller with Pittsburgh Screw and Bolt hollow steel blades.
Among other modifications, Post had the wing’s angle of incidence decreased 10° which increased the Vega’s speed by 10 miles per hour (16 kilometers per hour). The fixed tail skid was shortened to allow the airplane to reach a higher angle of attack for takeoff and landing. For the 1933 around-the-world flight, six auxiliary tanks were installed in the fuselage, giving the Vega a total fuel capacity of 645 gallons (2,442 liters). It was also equipped with a Sperry gyroscopic autopilot.
These modification required the Vega to be licensed in a restricted category, and it was re-registered NR105W.
After Wiley Post was killed in an airplane crash near Barrow, Alaska, 15 August 1935, his widow, Mae Laine Post, sold NR105W to the Smithsonian Institution. It is on display in the Time and Navigation Exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.
© 2016, Bryan R. Swopesby