Arthur R. Kennedy’s “My Brush With History” (“Final Service,” December 1997), about the death of Will Rogers and Wiley Post, is seriously flawed. The plane in the photograph is not the Winnie Mae ; it is the hybrid Orion-Explorer in which both Rogers and Post perished, a combination of a Lockheed Orion fuselage with a Lockheed Explorer wing—not a Sirius wing as the article indicates. Lockheed did not refuse to attach floats to the plane; rather it had refused to join two aerodynamically unrelated parts (the fuselage and the wing) because it had correctly determined that the plane would be dangerously nose-heavy.
Mr. Kennedy claims that he was “told to fit the pontoons and ready them for shipment to Alaska.” The fact is that floats on loan from Pacific Alaska Airline were correctly installed in Renton, Washington, by Northwest Air Service. Floats, by hanging below the fuselage, shift the center of gravity, forcing the plane into a downward mode for which a pilot must continuously compensate. Far from trying to get the nose down when the plane stalled after takeoff, Post would have tried to get the nose up, in an attempt to dead-stick land the plane. It was nose-heaviness that forced the plane to dive and crash nose-first into the lagoon.
Editor’s note: The writers are the authors of Will Rogers & Wiley Post: Death at Barrow (M. Evans and Company, 1993).