By Willie Bodenstein

Video © EAA AirVenture

Formed in 1928 by the Skelly Oil Company, then a major supplier of aviation fuel, the Spartan Aircraft Company was a bold venture indeed. While most of the USA was still reeling from the Great Depression, Spartan set out to design its elegant transport.

With a starting price of roughly $23,500, the pool of potential customers for the Executive was limited to corporations and very wealthy individuals. Although only thirty four 7W Executives were built, the list of owners reads like the “Who's Who” of the time. Wealthy industrialists, Howard Hughes and J. Paul Getty as well as King Ghazi of Iraq were among the celebrities of the time that took delivery of their customised Executives.

Development started in 1935 headed by veteran design engineer James B. Ford by which time J. Paul Getty was the owner of the company. The prototype Model 7 powered by a seven cylinder, 285 horsepower Jacobs L-5 radial engine had her maiden flight on 8 March 1936 piloted by Edmund T. Allen and attained a speed of 140 mph (224 Kph). The prototype performed as expected but Spartan's customers demanded more power.

It was back to the drawing board for Spartan's engineers. What emerged was the 7W Executive powered by the Pratt & Whitney R985 Wasp Jr. producing 450 horsepower. The 7W had its first flight on 14 September 1936 and outperformed the prototype achieving cruise speeds of 200 mph (320 Kph) and a range of over 1,000 miles.

Featuring an all-metal fuselage as well as a retractable undercarriage, the 7W was designed for comfort. The spacious interior featured 18 in (46 cm) of slide-back seat room for front-seat passengers, arm rests, ash trays, dome lighting, deep cushions, cabin heaters, ventilators, soundproofing, large windows and interior access to the 100 lb (45 kg) capacity luggage compartment. In performance, in appearance and in luxury the Spartan 7W Executive was a showstopper.

Spartan's marketing strategy was spot on; the majority of Executives were bought by oil companies or other corporations. Only two were sold to private individuals. Five were exported to Latin America for use by military generals, three of which were ultimately exported to Spain and saw action in the Spanish Civil War. In the early stages of WWII the RAF (Royal Air Force) purchased three for use as trainers. When the U.S. entered World War II, 16 Executives were purchased from their individual owners for use as transports when the US entered the war. At the end of the war, most were re-purchased by the original owners. Unfortunately, however, two were destroyed in accidents while serving in the military.

After the war, Getty made the decision that there was no future in aircraft manufacturing. For a while the company dabbled in various peacetime opportunities in an effort to keep all of the staff hired during the war employed. It eventually concentrated on building “mobile” homes.

Today, 20 survive; however, many are rarely flown and owners of airworthy examples are scattered across the U.S. and U.K. Six flew in to AirVenture 2016, joining the one on permanent display at the EAA AirVenture Museum.

Manufacturers That Changed History

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