Aviation enthusiasts will visit the Will Rogers Ranch in Oologah for the annual Will Rogers & Wiley Post Fly-in on Saturday, Aug. 15.
The event celebrates Will Rogers’ and Wiley Post’s contributions to aviation, and the 80th anniversary of their fatal plane crash in Alaska.
“That day and the lives of the two, undoubtedly the world’s strongest aviation boosters of their time, is remembered each year on the Oologah, Indian Territory, ranch where Will Rogers was born. Usually a Sunday event, it was changed to Saturday to reflect the anniversary of the deaths,” said Tad Jones, Will Rogers Memorial Museum executive director.
Pilots will start landing on the grass strip at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch near Oologah at about 8:30 a.m.
“Will Rogers” and “Wiley Post” — played by Lester Lurk and Joe Bacon — are expected to land at 9 a.m. on the grass strip at the Will Rogers Birthplace Ranch near Oologah.
“I should be done with my altitude record and round-the-world flight by 9,” Post (Bacon) said.
Rogers and Post first met after Post completed his record-breaking, eight-day flight around the world. Rogers talked about aviation regularly simply because he was fascinated with it. He was an aviation aficionado. When the opportunity arrived to take a trip to Alaska he couldn’t refuse the offer, Dr. Reba Collins, past curator at Will Rogers Memorial, wrote in a 1979 article on Rogers and Post.
Everyone asked why Rogers and Post flew off to Alaska in a plane, and newspapers across the country printed the news of their plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness.
“The Plane lifted off, probably with a roar as Wiley gave her the gas, started to bank, then only a little way in the air, it sputtered, quit, nosed straight down, and flipped on its back, shattered in the shallow lagoon,” wrote Collins. “The crash has been investigated, discussed, and varied theories advanced throughout the years. All that mattered, really, was the tragic loss of the quiet, daring pilot with the inquiring mind, and the humorist loved by the world.”
The Los Angeles times was the first to report the crash and printed more than 37,000 copies of the paper.
Will Rogers’ death was mourned around the world — theater screens were darkened and flags were flown at half-staff in Sacramento. Moscow, Spain, France, and Mexico all paid tribute. Here in Claremore, business was suspended after the news was received.
“It is the biggest loss this country could have had,” said A.B. Robinson on Aug. 16, 1935 in the Claremore Progress. “Everyone in Claremore feels like he had lost his best friend.”
Airports across the country have been asked to join in a fly-over in the 10 a.m. hour at their respective airports to honor pilots who have died in air crashes in the past year. At that same time a short program at the airstrip will pay tribute to the lives of Will and Wiley.
The event is free and open to the public. Visitors are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and enjoy exploring all of the unique small planes up close. Other activities at the event include a classic car show, free tours of the Will Rogers Birthplace and the Amish barn, a Cherokee storyteller, and food vendors.
The public is also invited to a noon wreath-laying ceremony on Friday, Aug. 14, at the Rogers family tomb on the grounds of the Will Rogers Memorial Museum.