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 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 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.