Tulsa-Based Spartan Aircraft Produced Popular Planes

Associate Editor

MADE IN TULSA: A beautiful and prestigious lineup of gleaming Spartan 7-W Executives at Tulsa’s Municipal Airport in the late 1940s waiting purchase as business aircraft. They were the first all metal corporate aircraft and were designed and built by Tulsa’s Spartan Aircraft Company. The outer skin was brightly polished metal marked by the Spartan trademark, a brightly painted strip along the sides. In their time, Executives were much sought after by corporate CEOs for their high performance and appealing design.

Courtesy Tulsa Air and Space Museum

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth article in a multi-part series about the growth of the aviation industry in greater Tulsa and throughout the region. The series explores the many unique contributions made by Tulsans to what has become a major aspect of the area economy. The editors of GTR Newspapers want to acknowledge and thank the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and the Tulsa Historic Society for research assistance and the use of many of the historic photos that accompany these articles.

What did friends and loved ones of early Tulsans Jimmie Jones and Bill Stringer think in 1906 when word spread through town that the two had partnered to build an “aeroplane” of their own design and, heaven forbid, of their intention to fly it? Somewhere between uneasiness and object terror would probably have been the range of feelings experienced by many who still doubted the viability of human flight in those infant years of aviation. But for the many doubters there were those few who dreamed of taking to the air and fewer still with the vision to see aviation as a new form of transportation complete with a market driven industry generating products and services in the years ahead.

To the relief of many and the disappointment of others, the Jones/Stringer aeroplane was destroyed in a thunderstorm before it could be flown. Who knows if this failed effort at flying was driven by the prevailing flight mystic of the times or if these young Tulsans had envisioned the grand future ahead for aviation. But this much we must grant them. They were the first recorded, but certainly not the last, to make an airplane or aviation related product in Tulsa and the rest of the state.

In spite of the Jones/Stringer effort, Tulsa aviation lagged behind Oklahoma City for much of the first decade of the 1900s. The state capital was first to build a municipal airport and began early to host the typical “air shows” of the times at their state fair or during Fourth of July celebrations. These early-day air shows consisted mostly of various aerial stunts performed first in lighter-than-air balloons and later in powered aircraft made of fragile wood and cloth and piloted by young daredevils hired by promoters who were mostly out to make a fast buck treating breathless spectators to never-before-seen feats of human flight. Unfortunately, this all too often included an occasional miscalculation resulting in a fatal plunge. In any case, on-lookers always got their money’s worth. Word spread to the sleepy farming towns of Oklahoma and the demand grew for these spectacles of American ingenuity, courage and fortitude. Hard working folks would take time off and spend hard-earned money to come see these amazing events unfold over farm and pastureland. It was a market in the making. It was the beginning of the beginning.

It wasn’t until airplane design and production reached a threshold of reliability and safety that aviation began to branch out into areas with more economic potential than that afforded by aerial circuses. As this began to occur, Tulsa aviation took hold fueled by the economic need and resources of its growing oil industry. It wouldn’t take long for Tulsa to catch up with Oklahoma City and in some cases take the lead in the state on specific aviation products.

Tulsa oil pioneers like William Grove “Bill” Skelly, J. Paul Getty, Frank and Waite Phillips, and Erle and J. C. Halliburton all saw the potential of aviation not only in the energy business, but as a new form of commercial transportation. Flying enabled one to get from point A to point B faster without the obstacles of ground travel. Opportunities in the early oil days were often fleeting moments requiring quick response time to nail down a deal. Oil was being discovered all over the Midwest. Air travel enabled aggressive dealmakers fast access to remote destinations. From the start, marketing petroleum was a nationwide endeavor. Air travel provided faster access to national and eventually international markets. For this and other reasons, most notably their visionary instincts, Tulsa oilmen were early adaptors to all that aviation offered.

Skelly and Getty understood the growing aviation industry would create a sizable market for aviation fuel and motor oil. Skelly and Skelly Oil sponsored Tulsa’s first state air tour in 1928 promoting aviation in Oklahoma. He used the occasion to promote Skelly Aviation Gasoline and Tagolene Motor Oil, “Made to Stand Abuse.” After Getty took over Skelly’s aviation interests, his energy empire continued developing high performance aviation fuels and oils eventually landing military contracts for fueling the warplanes of WWII.

On Oct. 25, 1926, Willis C. Brown first flew a plane fellow Tulsans had named “Brown’s Mule.” He had co-designed and built it with Waldo Emery in Emery’s instrument shop at 915 N. Wheeling. The plane took off from McIntyre Airport and launched a series of developments culminating in one of Tulsa’s most successful aviation manufacturers. Brown and Emery formed Mid-Continent Aircraft Company to manufacture the new plane. When Skelly decided to enter the aviation arena, he purchased the rights to “Brown’s Mule” and eventually merged the fledgling Mid-Continent into Spartan Aircraft Company. The plane was renamed the Spartan C-3. Between 1928 and 1930 Tulsa’s first full-scale aircraft manufacturer produced several new models including the C3-1, C3-2, C3-3, C3-4, C3-5, C3-165, C3-166 and the C3-255. The company survived the Great Depression and emerged after World War II as a premier aircraft manufacturer producing the beautiful and prestigious Spartan 7-W Executive, the first all metal business aircraft and the plane for which Spartan became most famous.

The early days of aviation in Tulsa were much like any other Midwestern city, fits and starts by wide-eyed flight enthusiasts; spectacular, death defying air shows; ill-trained, naive aviators designing and building their own version of flying machines; all driven by the absurd notion that humans not only could fly, but were meant to fly. Fomenting beneath all the early day spectacles was an enfant industry in the making. An industry that would create substantial marketplace needs for products and services. In Tulsa’s case, when oil mixed with aviation, it was like a shot of steroids propelling the city’s aviation industry into the national forefront. As a result, when aviation really took off Tulsa was positioned to be a major player.

For more see: www.tulsaairandspacemuseum.com and www.tulsahistory.org

Next month: Chapter 7—An Airline Lands In Young Tulsa

Updated 08-30-2007

Back to Top


Back to Top

Contact GTR News

About Post Author