Oklahoma City’s impact on aviation is nothing new – in fact, the industry is embedded in our DNA. Less than 20 years after Oklahoma City was settled during the Land Run of 1889, pioneering individuals were pushing the boundaries of aviation and bringing what was then a new form of transportation to the Sooner State. This includes Wiley Post, Oklahoma’s most famous aviator, who was the first pilot to fly solo around the world.
In 1913, the Post family visited a county fair in Lawton, Okla., where Post saw his first aircraft in flight. This inspiration caused Wiley to immediately enroll in the Sweeney Automobile and Aviation School in Kansas City and upon graduating he returned to Oklahoma to work. His aviation career began in 1924, when he worked as a parachutist for a flying circus at the age of 26. After working as a private pilot for wealthy Oklahoma oilmen for a few years, Post bought a high-wing, single-engine Lockheed Vega nicknamed “Winnie Mae” in 1930. Post was at the controls of this aircraft when he won the National Air Race Derby from Los Angeles to Chicago on Aug. 27, 1930. This garnered him national attention and Post completed his first solo flight around the world in 1931.
During his career, Post also helped develop the first practical pressurized suit, which he used in an unpressurized cabin at heights reaching 50,000 feet. Because of the heights he reached, literally, Post is often credited with discovering the existence of jet streams.
While Wiley Post may be our most famous aviator, he’s certainly not the only Oklahoman to make their mark on aviation. Read on for a few of our favorites:
- Charles F. Willard, the nation’s first barnstorming pilot and the fourth American to pilot an airplane, is credited with Oklahoma’s first airplane flight in Oklahoma City in 1910.
- Enid native Clyde Cessna left his automobile dealership behind to pursue flying in 1911. He later opened an aircraft factory in Kansas, which produces planes to this day.
- Paul Braniff and his brother, Tom, founded Braniff Airlines in 1928, where their initial route flew passengers back and forth from Oklahoma City to Tulsa. The company was headquartered in downtown Oklahoma City until 1945.
- Eula “Pearl” Carter Scott of Marlow became the youngest pilot in the United States in September 1929 when she took her first solo flight at the age of 13.
- Oklahoma City native Thomas Cox Allen and J. Herman Banning from El Reno made history by becoming the first AfricanAmerican pilots to fly coast-tocoast in 1932.
- Jerrie Cobb from Ponca City became the nation’s first female astronaut in 1959, when she was accepted into the Mercury astronaut program. Although she passed all the tests to participate in the mission, NASA decided against sending a woman to space. Instead, Cobb used her aviation skills to provide humanitarian aid in the Amazonian rain forest, for which she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
- Astronaut Shannon Lucid, a graduate of Bethany High School, is the only American woman to have served aboard the Mir space station. At the time, her prolonged mission aboard the Mir in 1996 earned her the record for the longest duration stay in space by an American.