By: Tom Fink | Category: Recreation/Leisure | Issue: July 2022
During his lifetime, Will Rogers flew higher than most – both literally and figuratively.
Rising to worldwide success in Vaudeville, films, newspapers and magazines, Rogers was a man of multiple talents and passions, with one of his passions being the once-fledgling industry of aviation.
This summer, Rogers, and his love of flying will be recognized with the Will Rogers/Wiley Post Fly-In and National Day of Remembrance at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch in northeastern Oklahoma.
“This is a traditional part of the Birthplace Ranch and the history of Will Rogers, as well as Wiley Post,” said Will Rogers Memorial Executive Director Tad Jones. “It’s been an honor for us to host this family-friendly event every year – we didn’t even cancel it during the COVID years – we managed to keep it going, and we’re thrilled to bring it back again this year.”
Sponsored by the Cherokee Nation, the fly-in will begin early, with gates opening around 7:30 a.m. for the public to arrive and watch and marvel as more than 100 small-engine planes from across the state, and some from outside the state, arrive and land on the grounds of the Birthplace Ranch in nearby Oologah.
Members of the public will have the opportunity to approach and see the planes up close, as well as get the chance to talk to the pilots. Photographs are encouraged.
At 10 a.m., a National Day of Remembrance will be observed in honor of those who – like Rogers and Post – lost their lives in a small plane accident.
Part of the day’s festivities also will be classic cars, food trucks, a performance from a Cherokee storyteller, and more.
As the fly-in is an outdoor event, social distancing will be observable, with masks not required, but at the discretion of event attendees. Lawn chairs and blankets may be brought for the day for comfort. Festivities will wrap up around 1:30 p.m. There is no cost to attend the fly-in.
Rogers became an early advocate for the aviation industry in the 1920s, after noticing the advancements in Europe and befriending one of the most famous aviators of that era, Charles Lindbergh. During his 1926 trip to Europe, he witnessed advances in the commercial air service, and compared them to the almost non-existent facilities (at the time) in the U.S.
His subsequent 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 the 1930s, Rogers became acquainted with fellow Oklahoman and fellow aviator Wiley Post, who was interested in surveying a mail-and-passenger air route from the West Coast to Russia at the time. Subsequently, Rogers visited Post often at the airport in Burbank, California while he was modifying the aircraft, and he asked Post to fly him through Alaska in search of new material for his newspaper column.
After making a test flight in July, Post and Rogers left Lake Washington in Renton 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, and the pair made numerous flights before their unfortunate death Aug. 15, 1935, near Point Barrow, Alaska.
“We’re still making plans (for the event), but we’re excited and looking forward to it, and hopefully, we’ll have good weather again,” Jones said.
Will Rogers/Wiley Post Fly-In and National Day of Remembrance will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch in Oologah, 9501 E. 380 Road in Oologah.
For more information, contact the Will Rogers Memorial Museum at 918-341-0179 or visit them online at www.willrogers.com.
Tad Jones, Will Rogers Memorial Executive Director