Will Rogers 1935-08-15
Location: near Barrow, Alaska
The Lockheed Orion-Explorer in which Will Rogers and pilot Wiley Post died on August
15, 1935. Rogers was so prominent that, on the day of his funeral, every movie theater
in America went dark.
Rogers became an advocate for the aviation industry after noticing advancements
in Europe and befriending Charles Lindbergh, the most famous aviator of the era.
During his 1926 European trip he witnessed the European advances in commercial air
service and compared them to the almost nonexistent facilities in the United States.
Rogers' newspaper columns frequently emphasized the safety record, speed, and convenience
of this means of transportation, and he helped shape public opinion on the subject.
In 1935 Wiley Post, an Oklahoman, became interested in surveying a mail-and-passenger
air route from the West Coast to Russia. He attached a Lockheed Explorer wing to
a Lockheed Orion fuselage, fitting floats for landing in the lakes of Alaska and
Siberia. Rogers visited Post often at the airport in Burbank, California while he
was modifying the aircraft, and asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of
new material for his newspaper column. When the floats Post had ordered did not
arrive at Seattle in time, he used a set that was designed for a larger type, making
the already nose-heavy hybrid aircraft still more nose-heavy. According to the
research of Bryan Sterling, the floats were the correct type.
After making a test flight in July, Post and Rogers left Seattle in the Lockheed
Orion-Explorer in early August and then made several stops in Alaska. While Post
piloted the aircraft, Rogers wrote his columns on his typewriter. Before they left
Fairbanks they signed and mailed a yacht club burgee belonging to South Coast Corinthian
Yacht Club. The signed Burgee is on display at South Coast Corinthian Yacht Club
in Marina del Rey, California. On August 15, they left Fairbanks, Alaska for Point
Barrow. They were a few miles from Point Barrow when they became uncertain of their
position in bad weather and landed in a lagoon to ask directions. On takeoff, the
engine failed at low altitude, and the aircraft, uncontrollably nose-heavy at low
speed, plunged into the lagoon, shearing off the right wing and ended inverted in
the shallow water of the lagoon. Both men died instantly.