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