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Spartans Set OSH Record
July 25, 2016 - History is on display all over EAA AirVenture 2016, but this year some was made.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of Jim Savage, eight Spartan Executives, a premier corporate transport aircraft when it debuted in 1936, parked together here in Oshkosh. The gathering is, according to Savage, the largest collection of the type ever to be in one place at the same time. A 1938 photo of six gathered at the Spartan factory is believed to represent the prior record.
What is also amazing is that the eight planes represent almost a quarter of the entire production run of the type.
“They have a tremendous survival rate,” said Savage, an Executive owner and historian of the type. “Twenty out of the 34 [produced] actually still exist. I don’t think you will find that with any other kind of aircraft.”
He went on to add that a similar gathering of Beechcraft Staggerwings, a design manufactured in the same era for the same mission as the Spartan, would require 185 airplanes to attend. Substantially fewer than 185 Staggerwings have survived.
“[Staggerwings] have a wooden spar, wooden ribs and fabric covering,” Savage said. “Which means you are rebuilding them every so many years. At some point it wasn’t practical to rebuild one anymore.”
Savage attributes the remarkable survival rates for the Executive on its all-metal construction.
“This has no wood in it whatsoever and the only fabric is on the control surfaces,” he said. “It has a steel tube fuselage skinned with aluminum. So by definition it lasts much longer.
“The second part of the equation is that this was an extraordinarily expense airplane when it was built. In 1936 it sold for $25,000. You could buy four or five houses for $25,000 at that time.”
Spartan targeted the Executive at the oil industry. The airplanes were built in Tulsa, Oklahoma right the heart of oil country and most served as fast, comfortable corporate transports until World War II.
Many Executives were pressed into military service during the war. Savage has photos of actress Betty Grable standing on the wing of his plane during the time it served with the Royal Air Force in Canada. Grable visited the aircraft’s base while preparing for a war-themed film.
Production ceased at 34 examples when expected post-war demand for personal and corporate airplanes did not materialize. The Spartan company remained in business and used its metal aircraft manufacturing expertise to build polished aluminum travel trailers. According to Savage, the unique trailers are highly sought by collectors.
While the number of remaining Executives is remarkable when compared to the number built, it still represents relatively few owners and planes. There is not an active type club so Savage, who developed an intimate knowledge of all the remaining airframes through his efforts to understand the history of the type, personally contacted owners—in some cases more than once—and encouraged them to attend AirVenture 2016 in order to celebrate the design’s 80th anniversary. Ultimately six owners agreed.
The Executives here include Savage’s NC17634, which he brought from Butler, Pennsylvania; Bob Redman’s NC17616, flown in from Nye, Montana; Steve Marini’s NC20200 from Danville, California; Pat Hartness’s NC13PH out of Spartanburg, South Carolina; John O’Keefe’s NC17601 from the Seattle, Washington area; Alex Boone’s NC17613 from Lexington, Kentucky, and Ron Tarrson’s NC17662 flown in from Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The eighth example, NC13993, is part of the EAA AirVenture Museum collection and was towed to Vintage parking for the duration of the show.
According to Savage a gathering of Executives this large likely will never happen again.
“Most [of the owners] are senior citizens,” Savage said. “A lot of [the airplanes] will end up in museums, I think. I’m not sure they will continue to fly for too many more years.
“I guess that is true of any 80 year old airplane.”