More Pictures from Tulsa – Spartan Aircraft.

I wrote about the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (and Planetarium) last time, and only one of the four photos in the blog article came from my July 2017 visit. So here is another post, with some pictures from TASM,   concentrating on the products of the Spartan Aircraft Company.

It seems that Tulsa had its answer to Wichita’s Jake Moellendick, in the shape of William Grove Skelly (1878 – 1957).  Skelly was an oilman who had possibly been in El Dorado, Kansas at the same time as Jake Moellendick, but moved his headquarters to Tulsa in 1919.  Some years later, in 1928, he bought a struggling aircraft company, renamed it  the Spartan Aircraft Company, reorganized it financially,  and started a line that would make Oklahoma well known in aviation circles.  Skelly also began the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa. Despite his support through the Great Depression, Skelly was forced to sell a controlling interest in the business  to J. Paul Getty in 1935.   It was Getty who started the branches of the Spartan School in Miami, Muskogee, and Ponca City, Oklahoma.

Spartan NP-1 and C-2

Spartan NP-1 and C-2 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, July 2017. (Robert Smith)

Entering the museum in July,  I had absolutely no idea that the yellow biplane in the corner was anything except a Boeing or Stearman. How wrong could I be.   It’s a Spartan NP-1 trainer,  of which this is the only survivor of the 201 built for the U.S. Navy.  The NP-1 was,  in spite of its antique appearance,  the last Spartan type to be put into production.   The display panels in front of the aircraft talk about its history and the fact that a certain naval aviator called George H.W Bush learned to fly on one of these.  This particular aircraft (BuNo 3691, N28700) was stored in the Pacific Northwest for many years and came to Tulsa in 2008 after restoration.   It’s powered by a Lycoming R680 engine, not a Pratt and Whitney Wasp, as you might think.  Those are Wasps on wither side of the aircraft. One is a reduction-geared Wasp (on the right) and a direct drive Wasp on the left.

Above the NP-1 is an example of a Spartan C2 monoplane. This is Spartan C2-60 (NC11908) with a Jacobs L3 engine of 55hp.  The C2 first flew in 1931,  and this one, the 15th of 16 examples built and one of three survivors worldwide has been on display since 2009.   Apparently Spartan tried a 165-hp version which they pitched to the US government of the day, but they weren’t interested. The C2-165s were retained by the School of Aeronautics.

 

Spartan Model 12 Executive

Spartan Model 12 Executive at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.   (Robert Smith)

Nestling in front of some of the surviving Art Deco frontage of the old Tulsa Municipal Airport is the only example of a Spartan Model 12W Executive. This is a tricycle-undercarriage version of the Spartan 7W Executive (produced 1936-1940 – this is why it’s hard to believe the NP-1 came afterwards).  The 7W was the corporate cruiser of its day and was allegedly the realization and embodiment of William Skelly’s aeronautical desire.   It was designed for speed and comfort. The Wikipedia article for the 7W talks of 18 inches of sliding leg room for front-seat passengers, dome lighting, deep cushions, cabin heaters, ventilators, soundproofing, large windows, and interior access to the  luggage compartment.  The 12W was a high-speed version originally featuring wingtip tanks for longer range and a magnesium alloy skin, which was replaced with aluminum.   In the mid – late 40s,  Getty changed the direction of the Spartan company to produce trailers rather than luxury aircraft, fearing the surplus boom post-war would drive the bottom out of the market.  The 12W was restored in the mid sixties and was donated to the Museum in 2012.

 

OX-5

I had a couple of days off in Oklahoma recently,  and visited the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (and Planetarium)   which has changed considerably since I visited in 2000.  A lot of things change in seventeen years.   The museum has moved to a new building and has a lot of interesting exhibits.    I’ve  learned a couple of interesting snippets about Oklahoma’s aviation heritage which may not be new to my reader, but to which I hadn’t given much thought.  More of this will follow in other articles.

Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum

I wonder what stories this could tell.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, Tulsa, OK – July 2017 (Robert Smith)

I love looking at the stories detailing the early years of aviation.  Tucked away in a quiet corner were the stories of people like Wiley Post and Duncan McIntyre. Also tucked away but neatly displayed was a Curtiss OX-5 engine.  I wasn’t going to write about it, but it’s occurred to me just to what extent the OX-5 made a considerable mark on the early years (some would say the golden age) of American aviation.  The OX-5  was an eight liter (500 Cubic Inch) V8 which first saw the light of day in 1910.  Its ancestors were V-twin motorcycle engines, but Curtiss moved into aircraft engines, and  the OX-5 was the first American aircraft engine put into mass production.  I was surprised to read that more than twelve thousand OX-5s were built.  One of its major uses at the outset was  powering Curtiss’ own  JN-4 “Jenny” trainer.

At the end of the First World War there was a considerable surplus of OX-5 engines,  and this made the OX-5 virtually the default choice for nascent American commercial aviation industry.  The Swallow of 1924 and the Travel Air 2000 (the gloriously nicknamed “Wichita Fokker” because of its perceived resemblance to the Fokker D.VII)  both used the OX-5 and both have surprisingly similar nose designs.    Douglas Corrigan’s 1929 Curtiss Robin  (see previous article) had an OX-5 engine when he bought it, and which he swapped for a more powerful Wright radial. One may speculate if he’d have succeeded crossing the Atlantic with an OX-5 powered Robin.

Then I wondered if I had any other OX-5 pictures, and yes, it seems I do.  When I went to visit the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita on a blistering June afternoon in 2015,  they had a shiny OX-5 in their exhibition.  Interestingly this one seems to have a little more of the ignition wiring in place, but not the exhaust pipe.

I’m sure there’s a story here too.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, June 2015

While we’re talking about nose shapes here’s the KAM’s Swallow looking lovely in June 2015 – complete with a rather lovely streamlined cowling covering the Curtiss powerplant inside.  Notice the slab-like radiator underneath.

Swallow Aircraft "Swallow"

The rather gorgeous OX-5-powered Swallow Aircraft “Swallow” at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, KS, photographed in in June 2015 (Robert Smith – Own Work)

And finally,  a picture (not mine) of the “Wichita Fokker”   – the Travel Air 2000,  also with an OX-5 engine. You can see why Howard Hughes wanted at least one example of the Travel Air when he was making Hell’s Angels.   Those balanced ailerons, and the fin/rudder shape are strongly reminiscent of the Fokker design.  With a Ranger engine installed,  the similarity was amazing, but that’s another story.   The nose lines of the Travel Air here are remarkably similar to the Swallow and the OX-powered Waco 9 of the same vintage.  Consider Buck Weaver (founder of Waco) and his Wichita connection with “Matty” Laird and Swallow,  and the coincidence is taken further still.  This is hardly surprising.  There are only a certain number of things you can do to make a streamlined cover for an OX-5.

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine at the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum, Dauster Field, Creve Coeur, Missouri, 2006.  By RuthAS (Own work) [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

79 Years Going The Wrong Way

douglas_groce_corrigan_28afdotmil29

Douglas Corrigan beside his Curtiss Robin aircraft – (Public Domain)

On July 17th 1938,  Douglas Corrigan took off in an easterly direction from Floyd Bennett field and kept on going.   Just over 28 hours later he landed at Baldonnel field near Dublin,  and until the end of his life he maintained he’d been trying to get back to Long Beach, California.  His aircraft was a nine-year old Curtiss OX-5 Robin,  partially re-engined with the best parts from two J-6-5 Wright Whirlwinds, (making it a J-1 Robin, technically)  and otherwise modified for long-distance flight.

Corrigan was a aircraft mechanic and a devotee of Charles Lindbergh.  Corrigan assisted in the construction of the Spirit of St. Louis and it was Corrigan who pulled the chocks away from the Ryan NYP at the start of Lindbergh’s solo flight in 1927.  It’s a sad irony that Lindbergh never did acknowledge Corrigan’s Atlantic crossing eleven years later. Other notable Americans from Howard Hughes to Henry Ford congratulated him.

Corrigan retired from aviation in 1950, but apparently on the 50th anniversary of his flight in 1988 allowed a group of enthusiasts to retrieve the Robin from its hangar and start it up.  There is humorous comment on the Wikipedia page that Corrigan himself, by then aged 81, may have wanted to take the aircraft up for a spin.

Douglas Corrigan

“As I looked over it at the Dublin airdrome I really marveled that anyone should have been rash enough even to go in the air with it, much less try to fly the Atlantic. He built it, or rebuilt it, practically as a boy would build a scooter out of a soapbox and a pair of old roller skates. It looked it. The nose of the engine hood was a mass of patches soldered by Corrigan himself into a crazy-quilt design.”
Knickerbocker, H.R. (1941) quoted in Wikipedia.
Corrigan and his modified Curtiss Robin “Sunshine”

Rumours persist that,  later in life,  Corrigan dispersed the parts of the Robin to prevent it from being stolen.  I haven’t managed to track down any references to dispersed Robin parts in the Santa Ana area of California although I have no doubt a few such articles exist.

There are a few nice pictures of Corrigan and the Robin at Baldonnel in the collections of the National Library of Ireland, and Bryan Swopes on This Day in Aviation has a picture of Corrigan and the Robin in 1988 at the 50th Anniversary celebrations. The the card model site Fiddlers Green has a different signed photo of Corrigan and the Robin taken at around that time.

If you’d like to see the man himself explain things,  try this public domain clip from YouTube.

I wonder if some parts of the Robin will emerge in 2018 when we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the flight?

The Sign of the Black Horse

The Sign of the Black Horse

Last month Susan and I were getting a few things at the Overland Park, Kansas branch of Whole Foods (a moderately trendy grocery store recently purchased by Amazon.com).    As we piled our stuff in the back of Susan’s car,  I quietly pointed out to her that a white roadster idling to our right in the parking lot was a Ferrari.    This is no surprise in Whole Foods,  and certainly no surprise in Johnson County, Kansas.  Susan paused to take a quick picture with her cellphone, and we pulled away.

Being the aviation geek that I am, I can never resist pointing out to anyone who’s around at the time,  that the prancing horse symbol was presented to Enzo Ferrari by the mother of an Italian flying ace after the First World War.   I first read that in a LION annual sometime in the 1960s, I’m sure.

I could not remember the name of the flyer involved. However, once I looked him up,  I thought a blog post might be in order,  since the story is quite interesting.

Count Francesco Baracca

Count Francesco Baracca, standing by his SPAD XIII fighter marked with the symbol of the the prancing horse. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The flyer in question was Count Francesco Baracca.   He was born into a wealthy family in 1888 in Lugo di Romagna,  in the province of Ravenna. He entered the military academy of Modena in 1907,  and took up equestrianism as a release from academic study.  He was commissioned into a cavalry regiment, and like several cavalry officers in many armies of the period,  got the aviation bug. He went to Reims (France) to learn to fly in 1912.  With his newly-acquired pilot’s license  he returned to Italy and joined the Battaglione Aviatori.

Baracca converted to Nieuport 10s and was a member of the 8a Squadriglia Nieuport when Italy entered the First World War.  He subsequently  switched to the lighter single-seat Nieuport 11 Bébé  and scored Italy’s first aerial victory,  on April 7, 1916

Baracca also flew the Nieuport 17,  SPAD VII and SPAD XIII in combat. The emblem of the prancing black horse (part of his family’s coat of arms) was first seen on his Nieuport 17 in 1917.  He adopted the Griffin emblem for the 91st Squadriglia,  although several pilots used both emblems in deference to their commander.

In early 1918 Baracca was one of a number of pilots, including two other aces, ordered to carry out trials of  the Ansaldo A.1. The A.1 (later named Balilla after an Italian folk hero)  was Italy’s only contemporary fighter aircraft of domestic design and manufacture.  Baracca found his time away from the front extremely frustrating and  after some lobbying managed to return to combat.

His score had risen to 34 enemy aircraft destroyed when he failed to return from a ground attack sortie on 19th June,  1918.  There are a few conflicting stories, some of which were no doubt written for propaganda purposes on both sides,  but following research in Austro-Hungarian archives it seems likely that he was killed by the rear-gunner of an Austrian two-seater Phönix which he was attacking.

After the war, the Francesco Baracca Museum was opened in his former home.  Among other mementos such as uniforms, medals and aerial trophies (including the rudders and guns taken from shot down aircraft)  was a SPAD VII, once flown by Baracca himself.  The SPAD was removed from the Baracca museum and restored several years ago by members of  the GAVS  (Gruppo Amici Velivoli Storici – the Italian aeronautical preservation society).  The Baracca museum has a fascinating website at  www.museobaracca.it  and the GAVS at http://gavs.it/

GAVS volunteers from Turin dismantle the SPAD VII in the Baracca museum for cleaning and restoration (GAVS)

Baracca’s SPAD VII following restoration by GAVS Turin (GAVS)

A young racing driver named Enzo Ferrari had allegedly (according to a couple of websites) met Baracca during the First World War. He certainly met Count Enrico and  Countess Paolina (Francesco’s parents) in 1923.  Baracca’s mother presented the Cavallino Rampante emblem to Ferrari, telling him it would bring him good luck.   Ferrari added the yellow background of Modena, and thus another legend was born.

Since I am a product of that era I find the early 60s Ferrari 250 series racing cars to be things of great beauty, and thus feel no other excuse is necessary to include a picture or two.

I think I still have my old Corgi die-cast model of the 250LM.

Ferrari 250LM 1964

Ferrari 250LM 1964 at the Musée National de l’Automobil (Mulhouse, France)
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Anfd finally, Willy Mairesse charging round the Nürburgring in a 250P in 1963. You can see a certain emblem quite clearly.

Willy Mairesse at the Nürburgring in a Ferrari 250P, May 1963

Willy Mairesse at the Nürburgring in a Ferrari 250P, May 1963
(Lothar Spurzem -CC-by-sa/2.0/de via Wikimedia Commons)

14th June, 1919

Alcock and Brown Take Off, 14th June, 1919.

Alcock and Brown depart St. John’s, Newfoundland in their Vickers Vimy.  14th June, 1919 (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I remember going to the Science Museum in London when I was small and seeing the Vickers Vimy  that Alcock and Brown used to make the first non-stop Atlantic crossing.  Until today it had never actually struck me on which day the crossing had taken place. Admittedly it was on the 14th/15th June.   You can read about some of the trials and tribulations of the flight  on their Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transatlantic_flight_of_Alcock_and_Brown

A couple of things I didn’t know about the flight:

  1. John Alcock had been a POW in Turkey in the First World War while flying with the Royal Naval Air Service – while a POW he dreamed of making the Atlantic crossing.
  2. There was a very real competition between Vickers and Handley-Page (among others) to win a 10,000 GBP prized offered by the Daily Mail. The Handley-Page team were still testing their aircraft when the Vickers team arrived, assembled their aircraft and took off.
  3. Alcock approached Vickers suggesting they use a modified Vimy bomber for the attempt. Vickers were impressed and made him their pilot.
  4. Arthur Whitten-Brown was apparently unemployed and approached Vickers looking for a job.

It’s amazing how a series of chances came together. One would say it was a very British undertaking.

Developments in Japan

Many of my blog articles are borne from reading articles on the BBC News website, and this is the latest. On May 26th, Alexander Neill, (described as the Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow at the IISS Asia) wrote an article entitled “Japan’s growing concern over China’s naval might” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39918647). He described a couple of interesting developments in Japan’s Self-Defense forces, especially in the light of Japan’s relationship with China.

1. The JMSDF has an aircraft carrier? Well, not really. Well, maybe. JS Izumo is  officially classified by Japan as a helicopter destroyer. The Wikipedia article notes that the ship is as large as any aircraft carrier of the Second World War, but it’s called a destroyer because the Japanese constitution forbids the acquisition of offensive weapons.  It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to see the Izumo embarking some kind of STO/VL aircraft even though the Japanese Self Defense Forces don’t have any just yet.

Helicopter Destroyer JS Izumo

JS Izumo (DDH-183) in December 2016
Kaijō Jieitai (海上自衛隊 / Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) – http://www.mod.go.jp/msdf/formal/jmp/201612.html (CC BY 4.0)

2. Indigenous Maritime Patrol Aircraft?  The news of the Izumo was interesting,  but what also caught my attention was the reference to the Kawasaki P-1 Maritime patrol Aircraft – two of which were apparently demonstrated in the UK at the RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo) in 2015.  it seems that Kawasaki thought it was worth putting in a bid to the UK Ministry of Defence  to supply the P-1 as a replacement for the Nimrod.  The Japanese bid was unsuccessful, however.  The UK is going to buy the Boeing P-8 Poseidon  instead.  The Poseidon is a patrol variant of the Boeing 737-800ER and has been in service for about 5 years in the US Navy. International customers so far consist of the Indian Navy,  Royal Australian Air Force,  Royal Air Force, and the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Several other countries have expressed an interest. Poseidon deliveries to the UK are supposed to commence in 2019.

Boeing P-8A Poseidon and Kawwasaki P-1

A U.S. Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon next to a Kawasaki P-1 of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
(US Navy – Public Domain)

The P-1 is a pretty interesting aircraft which Japanese officials have claimed is more capable, (but more expensive) than the P-8, having been purpose-built for the maritime patrol mission.  It is noteworthy for its pioneering use of a fly-by-light flight control system using fiber optic cables, which decrease electro-magnetic disturbances to its sensors  in comparison with fly-by-wire control systems, which are more electrically “noisy”.   Speaking as a dinosaur who thinks fly-by-wire was a huge advance over control cables, servos, and rods,  fly by light is a pretty amazing (albeit logical) application of fiber-optic technology.

All this technology needs to be seen against the increasing military posturing from Japan and China over territorial claims in the East and South China Sea, which are in themselves related to access to natural resources.  All progress comes at a cost,  and sadly some of the advances in flight and defense technology may be driven by a degree of rising tension between two nations.   We have certainly been in this situation before.

C919 Flies

So, further to my December 2016 post Stars in the East I saw in the news that the COMAC C919 finally made its maiden flight from Shanghai today. See this report from China’s Xinhua News Agency.

Also worth a look, if you want to riffle selectively through two hours of previously live-streamed footage, is this long YouTube segment from New China TV. There are several interesting views of the C919 taxying and the maiden flight itself.