By Scott Meacham
Fifty years before the world wide web and more than 80 years ahead of the phenomenon of social media, Wiley Post, was (in today’s parlance) an “influencer.” Oklahoma offers resources for today’s influencers.
Wiley Post went from being a dare-devil barnstormer and pilot of the rich and famous to becoming the first person to fly solo around the world. He was honored with the keys to New York City, celebrated with a pair of ticker-tape parades, and hosted at the White House by two different presidents. When people said the name “Wiley”, everyone knew who they meant.
Like many aviators and astronauts, Wiley Post was wired with the desire to break through barriers of distance and speed. He set world records and painted them on the side of his plane. He learned things in the cockpit of the Winnie Mae that uniquely prepared him to challenge and change the aviation industry. He had the confidence and tenacity to try. He is a role model to Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs.
Wiley Post tapped into the synergy between federal invention and private sector commercialization. For his solo flight around the world, he equipped the Winnie Mae with two new inventions on loan from the U.S. Army — a radio direction finder (RDF) and an early version of the auto pilot. The Army needed testing; Post navigation. Federal innovation helped Post best his previous around-the-world time; his flight helped the Army advance nascent technologies to test the commercial viability of two technologies still in use today.
Convinced that high-altitude flying was the future of aviation, Post was willing to share his ideas long before he had a pressurized flight suit solution that worked. In a 1934 article in Popular Mechanics, he described (with diagrams) his concepts for overcoming the challenges of high-altitude flight, inviting manufactures of planes, engines, and materials to join his vision and refine their designs while he designed a pressure suit.
After three failures, he succeeded with a working prototype of his pressure suit. He reached heights of about 50,000 feet. Repeatedly, he tried to achieve high-altitude transcontinental flight, before accepting that plane technology was not yet where it needed to be. Wiley Post didn’t allow failure to set him back. While plane technology caught up, he pivoted to testing a new kind of plane designed for intercontinental air mail.
In 2021, Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs don’t have to fly around the world to get governmental resources. Oklahoma offers resources for today’s influencers.
The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) improves the success rate of Oklahoma companies applying for federal programs by providing proposal preparation and submission assistance. With the support we receive from OCAST, i2E’s E3 program welcomes entrepreneurs with big ideas.
We help connect entrepreneurs with the strategic industry partnerships they need to succeed, and when a pivot is called for, we help validate that, too.
Wiley Post’s Winnie Mae is on display at the Smithsonian. Painted on the side of the airplane for all the world to see is “The Winnie May of Oklahoma”.
Think about the influence the story behind those five words have on the past and future of this state.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at [email protected].