By Dwayne Wilder
On the second Sunday in July, a red and black biplane took off to the south and banked east. The fluffy, white clouds and the blue Texas sky offered a perfect background as the silhouette glistened in the sunlight. The 1930 Spartan C-3 had begun its final journey—one that would end in Oshkosh, Wis., at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Museum. It will be on static display at the Pioneer Airport, a working aerodrome.
But the journey began much earlier. The refurbished antique aircraft is one of only 12 made by the Spartan Aircraft Company of Tulsa, Okla. Today, there are only two remaining and one of those isn’t airworthy. The other took its place in aviation history after its short stop at Addison Airport (ADS) in the north Dallas area.
“This is number 12, the last one,” said J.D. Daniels, the pilot who flew the Spartan. “She’s one of a kind.”
As Daniels slyly smiled and readied his charge for flight, he listed off a laundry list of “not haves.”
“There’s no radio, no navigation system,” he bemused. “There’s no electricity, no generator, and it flies less than 100 miles per hour.”
Daniels marveled at the craft as it 00sat on the tarmac between hangars at the local general aviation airport. He noted the Spartan was “top heavy,” the wheels “so thin,” and the horizontal stabilizer barely there. And occasionally, the altimeter could be a problem.
“But she flies,” he reported.
Daniels said that he and his copilot, Michelle Bright, had devised a portable intercom system for their vests, so they could talk to each other in-flight in the open cockpit.
“But it broke today and now we don’t even have that,” said Daniels.
To make it more interesting, the Spartan had to be hand-cranked—much like the automobiles of its time or the antique ice-cream makers. Daniels explained the inertial starter got things going in the engine and then, the pilot could “crank it up.”
The 75-year-old aircraft is the proverbial “airplane in a barn.” Pat McNamara, of St. Louis, found it on a farm near Lincoln, Neb., in 2004. It was owned by a former crop duster that hadn’t used it since the early 1950s.
“It was basically in a dirt hangar; the wheels were sunk a foot into the ground,” said McNamara, owner of A.E.R.O. “This airplane was Halliburton’s first corporate aircraft. By the end, it was towing banners. When the owner passed away, the estate decided to sell it. This is a one-of-a-kind airplane. It’s something that needs to be shared, not stored away where no one can see it.”
McNamara decided the best way for people to see the Spartan was to donate it to the AirVenture Museum. But first, it had to be updated and that would take a lot of work and a long time. And to do it right, the project would be expensive. Randy Long, of Long Aircraft in Coleman, Texas, did the $580,000 restoration project.
“It was a complete airplane; we took the wings off and trucked it to Texas,” explained Long. “It took 10 months to finish.”
Daniels said it was an honor to be chosen to fly the Spartan cross country
“I really enjoy doing this type of thing,” said Daniels, who’s from Odessa, Texas.
He’s humble about his accomplishments, but his 50 years of flying experience is telling. The former Delta Airlines pilot has been chief pilot for Basic Capital Management for the past five years. He’s also flown aerobatic airplanes for years and has been part of air shows.
Ray Roberts, aviation director at Basic Capital, based at Addison Airport, brought Daniels on board.
“He’s the most qualified person to fly it and not tear it up,” said Roberts, minutes before takeoff. “I’ve known J.D. for a long time; he’s topnotch. I trust him without reservation. He’s an outstanding pilot.”
When Daniels isn’t flying Basic’s 737, he’s rolling and half-turning Stearmans and T-34s in the sky. In fact, while Daniels flew some trips in the 737, the Spartan was loaned to the Addison-based Cavanaugh Flight Museum for about a week.
For their cross-country trip, Daniels and Bright plotted a course from Texas with sectional maps. The first stop would be Muskogee, Okla., followed by Jefferson, Mo., Quincy, Ill., and finally on to Oshkosh. The pair would carry a GPS unit of sorts but the 900-mile flight would mostly be done by the seats of their pants. Daniels estimated it would take two days as he pulled out the piecemeal map and laid it on the ground. It looked like one of those plastic sectional snakes that moves back and forth or a gerrymandered congressional district.
Bright admonished him to be careful as she related the taping and care that went into the flight map.
“I pieced that map together on the hotel room floor last night,” she laughed, but turned to a serious tone. “It’s interesting what you do to fly like this. It increases my appreciation for the people who did this in 1930.”
It was astounding to her—and Daniels nodded in agreement—how “backing up technology” changes things. And then to realize that it was a new thing to those who flew in 1930.
“It’s a real tribute to those who did this before we did,” said Bright, who has flown for about 15 years. She has been associated with the EAA in Houston for several years.
On that Sunday afternoon, about 4 o’clock, the team was ready to go. The inertial starter was now set to be cranked. Will Heine, of the Cavanaugh Flight Museum, stood facing the pilots and clamped his hands on the black crank handle. He started turning it slowly at first but sped up. Daniels tried the engine; a few sputters but nothing.
“That wasn’t enough; you’ll have to go faster,” shouted Daniels.
Heine nodded and began anew; the second time nothing happened, but on the third attempt, the engine roared to life. Quietly at first, with more sputters, but the chugging didn’t stop until a steady growling whine took control and filled the air.
A Boeing Stearman, piloted by Kevin Raulie, came to life as well. The pilots gave a wave to each other and Raulie led the Spartan to the taxiway. That last flight began as the airplane headed north and flew out of Dallas airspace. The Stearman partner flew ahead and guided the historic relic through the air traffic and on to its final resting place among aviation’s greats.
The next day, Daniels and Bright brought the Spartan into Oshkosh, flying at about 70 knots. Daniels noted that the wind generally is from the southwest but on this flight it was from the northeast.
“The cars were going faster than we were,” Daniels deadpanned. “But the weather was good and the flight was fine.”
There was a “photo flight” after landing at the museum on Monday. The unique airplane was dedicated in an “acceptance ceremony” later in July. Daniels said that the static display is situated on an airport complex built reminiscent of the 1920s. The grass runway and the structures will be a perfect backdrop for the Spartan.
“It was a real privilege to fly it,” commented Daniels. “It turns out they made a nice airplane.”