Harold Gatty – The Navigator’s Navigator

I’m such a sucker for the story behind the story.

Navigator Harold Gatty and pilot Wiley Post
Harold Gatty, on right, and pilot Wiley Post

Yes Wiley Post was the first #pilot to fly around the world in only eight days. But the reason he pulled this off was because of his #navigator, Harold Gatty. Gatty was almost killed on the flight, but more on that in a bit.

Harold Gatty was known and respected by the fliers of his day. Humorist Will Roger’s once praised Gatty as a man who could ““take a $1.00 Ingersoll watch, a Woolworth compass, and a lantern, and at twelve o’clock at night tell you just how many miles the American farmer is away from the poor house.”

I’ve been collecting Gatty’s books, and they are amazing. There’s one, a rare and hard-to-come-by volume called “the Raft Book” that was written to help people who had to abandon ship or jump out of an airplane figure out just where they are. The book opens with Gatty talking in glowing terms about how the Polynesians were able to use the stars and their knowledge of animals to know where they were.

It’s a great read.

Gatty wrote similar books that are easier to come by and fun to read. He was able to use the most sophisticated navigational instruments of his day, but he also believed that the skill of knowing just where you were with the simplest of tools was possible and highly desirable.So, your assignment for this weeks is to find one of Gatty’s books and read it. You won’t be sorry.

And about him almost being killed…. Well, the plane that made that 8-day flight, the Winnie Mae, didn’t have an electric starter. The propeller had to be manually spun, and that was part of Gatty’s job. But in Alaska, when they were only a few thousand miles from home, the engine backfired during a start-up, and smacked Gatty to the ground, seriously injuring him. He made the rest of the trip in terrible pain. But did his job even so.

A real hero in my book, and it’s a shame he’s not a house-hold name. His books probably saved many people’s lives. And he got Wiley home safe, too.

Read more about Gatty in Penenberg, Adam L.. Sky Rivals: Two Men. Two Planes. An Epic Race Around the World. Wayzgoose Press. Kindle Edition.

Fame Was Fleeting #aviation milestones

It’s amazing how quickly the public lost interest in Wiley Post’s first round-the-world flight.

wiley post portrait #aviation #milestones

Within weeks of he flight, money became a huge problam.

Post tried to support his flying with appearances and a tour after his flight, but 1931 was during some of the worst of the Depression, and despite the guarantee of speaking fees of $15,000 for his post-flight, national tour, he saw less than half this amount.

Yet during this time, Amelia Earhart was able to sustain herself through savvy marketing, such as her clothing line, and Charles Lindberg had merchandising arrangements that netted him big money during these lean times. But Post was left scrambling.

Part of the problem was that Post and his Aussie Navigator, Harold Gatty, didn’t like talking to the press. They had brief answers, nods, and shrugs. This was in stark contrast to the efforts of Amelia Earhart, who was charming and had a full-time publicist in the form of her husband.

To make matters worse, Post had a falling out with his principal sponsor, the owner of his plane, and demanded that the oilman, FW Hall, sell him the Winne Mae. Post was able to buy the plane, but then had very little money to fly it.

Not a happy time, but it forced Post to come up with an even more daring scheme.

More on that in a bit. #aviation #competitions #aviators

Thoughts? Follow me on Twitter @robblightfoot

Researching Wiley Post

Photo of pioneering pilot Wiley Post alongside his round-the-world plane, the Winnie Mae

I’m indulging one of my passions from my misspent childhood: binging on #biographies of #aviation and automotive pioneers and #dare-devils. There are so many interesting and quirky men—and women—from this age that it’s captivating reading.

Right now, I’m brushing up on my knowledge of Wiley Post, the record-breaking (cliche alert) “one-eyed pilot from Oklahoma.” He and his navigator, Aussie Harold Gatty, were the first to pair to fly a single engine plane around the world. Their 8-day trip besting the 21-day record set by the Graf Zeppelin in 1929 and crushing the 175-days required by the four US Army airmen who first completed this feat.

Post and Gatty’s historic flight ended safely–barely–almost 90 years ago, on July 1, 1931 when they landed at Roosevelt Field in Long Island.

It was a real zoo, by all accounts, when they landed. People climbed over the airport’s fences and the police couldn’t hold them back. Post stopped short of the hanger, cutting the engine, for fear that the propeller would chop someone to pieces.

Fortunately, it didn’t. But he and Gatty had a tough time getting from the plane, away from the crush of the crowd—literally—into the safety of the hanger.

One detail that I found interesting was that the two men wore suits rather than leather flying jacket so popular in that day. Still, I don’t think you could say there were ready fo a job interview. They’d been wearing the same suits for eight days, and their clothes were rumpled and grease-stained.

So, weird, but classy.

They made their flight in the hot-rod plane of the day, the Lockheed Vega. This model set many speed records and was also used by Amelia Earhart.

Post’s plane was named the “Winne Mae.”

I think I’m going to do some reading on the history of this plane, too. These things were the engineering marvels of their day, and the people who designed and built them were amazing in their own right.

My current read is about the rivalry between Post and another, more dashing Hollywood stunt pilot by the name of James “Jimmie” Mattern. More on him, soon.