Spartan Executive Pilot Report

The following is a transcription of an aircraft evaluation article printed in the November 1939 issue of “Air Facts” magazine. The original author’s name is not show in that publication.


Following closely on the heels of Wichita’s airplane building boom in 1927 and 1928, Spartan got in just as the curtain was starting down, especially as to high priced three place open biplanes, and they were unable to get far in the way of production. In the early thirties they were attracted by the light airplane, and built a wire braced low wing monoplane, but even thought they were on the target with 50-60 h.p. they had missed the trend towards closed ships. Along with the light plane they also developed a 4-5 place cabin, strut braced high wing monoplane in the 300 h.p. class that is to this day a good looking airplane, but probably by reason of economic conditions at the time its sale was not given a normal amount of push and it was not kept up-to-date from the engineering standpoint.

All through this development two things seem rather evident. Getting in the higher horsepower bracket of whatever class they were building in showed a particular interest in speed; all of their ships had a touch as to eye appeal and workmanship. The Executive carries on in both respects. As to comfort factors, if it lacks being par at any point, it is probably in that vibration and noise level are slightly higher than in comparable ships.

It seems that aside from the question of price, manufacturers have often failed to understand the viewpoint of the private owner in respect to speed. Naturally we want it, but a considerable part of the market is made up of people who are primarily interested in the sporting angle of flying. They engage, primarily, in a lot of airport flying, crosscountry trips of rather moderate length. They value particularly a feeling of being able to get a ship down in a fairly small place if forced to. They will not sacrifice too much in this respect for speed alone, and much of the disillusionment of specialists in the manufacture of fast airplane is attributable to a failure to understand that if he cannot have a ship that is both fast and easy to fly, the average pilot will take the latter.

As distinguished from the sport flying group there are, of course some who are interested in the airplane mainly as a means of fast transportation, people who are not flying so much for the fun of it , but to get somewhere with the convenience and rapidity which a really fast airplane makes possible. This has been a small group, but it is one that is likely to grow considerably as engineering and research bring the fast airplane more into the range of every-day uses and flying abilities. The Spartan is quite a step in that direction and is not the firecracker you might think when it comes to flying it either half across the country or an afternoon, or only a few minutes to some medium size airport.

Since some of us are used to what might be referred to as throttle airplanes, one glance at the instrument panel and gadgets in a ship of this kind is disheartening. Even at the end of a short flight period there is likely to be a certain amount of at least confusion remaining. But after all, an airplane is an airplane, and as many instructors who finally came around to light airplanes have said, if a pilot has learned to fly a training plane as it should be flown, even a light plane, it is not going to be so much a job to check him out on heavier equipment. The catch is that such equipment is seldom available for such purposes, for little mistakes are too likely to be big mistakes in heavy ships, from the financial standpoint.

With the master switch on, starting procedure is to turn the gas valve on the floor in front of the control column to the 17 gallon gravity feed fuselage tank. An electric gasoline gauge with a selector switch for the three tanks will show the amount of fuel in whichever one the switch is set on. The small tank for starting and take-off contains 87 octane, the others 80. Priming is accomplished by pumping the throttle its full travel five or six times and then leaving it about one-third open. The starter button on the instrument panel is held down for about one revolution of the motor before the ignition switch is turned on.

Trim tab control is in the center of the control column Y and the instrument panel indicator should be set to zero. Propeller pitch lever next to and similar to the throttle level is moved to full forward position, mixture control checked at full rich position, and, as mentioned, amount of fuel in the take-off tank checked.

Taxiing out, the ship is rather blind ahead. Heel brakes pedals operate the moderately sensitive hydraulic brakes. The landing gear is rather on the stiff side.

The take-off run of this ship, with full load, is given as 600 feet, but even in opening the throttle slowly for the first second or so and then on in it seems the ship is off much sooner than that. Best practice seems to be to get the tail up early even thought it takes a little more than anticipated wheel pressure to get it started up, and then to pull the ship off slightly after a few seconds run in level position. There is much less required in the way the right rudder at the first of the take-off run than would be expected in a ship of this power, and altogether the take-off is easy, quick and lively.

Preferably during the take-off run, or at least as soon as well off the ground the manifold pressure should be checked. With 87 octane gas and 2300 r.p.m. 450 h.p. is developed at 36-1/2 in. pressure, but if the throttle is left all the way forward the pressure will go on up to around 40 in. Certainly there is no point in squandering dependability and maintenance when there is at least 1200 f.p.m. climb available with not to exceed full rated h.p.

The rate of climb is helped considerably by getting the wheels up early, as the wells for the wheels are close to the leading edge and inclined upward at the front side, giving a scoop effect producing considerable drag. The landing gear switch is at the top center of the instrument panel and is flipped to full up position for retraction. The wheels retract in six seconds, an amber light on the instrument panel burning while they are in process of coming up, and then green lights come on. (NOTE – unless the warning light standards of 1939 were different than they are today, the author likely meant red lights, not green)

In view of the fact that the nose rides so high in steep climbing attitude, the tendency is to climb too flat. When the nose is up enough to hold the airspeed at around 110, with flat pitch and not over 36-1/2 in. manifold pressure, the airport fast sinks behind, and the next thing is to pull the constant speed propeller control lever back until the tach comes down to 2000 r.p.m. This produces a pronounced momentary acceleration. With already probably 1000 feet or more, it is time to pull the manifold pressure down with the throttle, until it reads 27 inches. The next step is to check the fuel pressure gauge and then switch over to the main 64 gallon tanks of 80 octane or the smaller 34 gallon tank. In case the fuel pump has not picked up its load, there is a wobble pump between the front seats. Finally, then, the mixture control is pulled out about an inch and a half until after a few seconds lag the fuel air ratio indictor reads on its lower scale the same as the manifold pressure, or 27. As the control is pulled out, there is another surge of power, and after the indicator setting of 27 has been obtained, the mixture control should be locked in position. In pulling the mixture control out at first care should be used not to pull it all the way out, as in that position it acts as a fuel cut off for stopping the motor on the ground. Last thing is a moderate amount of trimming for level flight, and you are squared away and really sliding along. With so much speed, it seems a shame to turn back, but in fact, if in a strange locality, just where is the airport? You might be surprised, for in being necessarily slow at first in the 6 point routine, several miles have probably slipped by without your realizing it.

After work, play and in making yourself at home the fact that this is a nice airplane to fly begins to come into consciousness rapidly. In moderately rough air she rides steadily around all axises. Slight alternate displacements of the controls reveal considerable stability. In a rather steep climb at around 100 m.p.h. there is a surprising lack of tendency to yaw to the left with free rudder. Smooth turns develop without rudder simply by banking and keeping the nose where level is with the elevators. Turns initiated with rudder only develop smoothly enough too, thought there seems to be slightly more than the usual tendency for the nose to drop some in turning either right or left.

On pulling the throttle (mixture control set in full rich position to insure proper idling), as it gets about three quarters of the way back an automotive horn blows as a reminder of the landing gear situation. The horn can be cut off by turning off both the master switch and the generator switch. That, of course, takes out such of the instruments as are electrically operated, but you do not need them if you want to land or feel out a stall in peace with the wheels up.

This ship has a combination of NACA wings sections, which seem to have so much on the ball in moderated center of pressure travel, rather high stalling angles and slow break in the stall.

The wing loading is 17.6 lbs., consequently in gliding at a rather flat angle, wheels and flaps up, you soon get around 1200 feet per minute rate of descent. Obviously ships which settle so rapidly in a slow glide need more in the way of altitude for recovery by simply nosing down, but in view of the fact that the heavier ships are so rarely stalled in landing approaches, it would seem reasonable to believe that in rapid settling we get a more effective warning of slow speed that we do by control feel. In flattening the glide still further, and rather unwillingly disregarding the pronounced settling, the nose has to be gotten rather well up to get the air-speed reading down to 70. At this speed controllability is quite satisfactory and a flat skid revealed no tendency for abrupt tip stall. Lateral control is slow but positive as the nose is brought way on up for a stall, and well before the break the elevator pressure becomes light. There is considerable whistling around the overhead cabin ventilators, a pronounced increase in rate of settling at the last, and at the stall the nose goes down rather methodically and without any pronounced feeling of its having “let go.” As the nose would go down, the tendency was always for a left wing to drop at about the same rate as the nose was coming down. In the stall, trying to pick up the low wing with ailerons alone seems to produce neither results or yaw towards the down aileron. Recovery seemed really quick, but obviously starting it when in an already high rate of descent would no doubt have made it seem much slower at low rather than 3500 feet altitude. The nose started down in the stalls at an airspeed reading just over 60.

Putting the flaps down, wheels down, and prop in flat pitch, to simulate conditions in a landing approach, the rate of settling seemed even faster, and by the time the airspeed was in the neighborhood of 80, nose well up, controllability was still excellent. The squirminess of the ship and whistling around the landing gear wells and cabin ventilators seemed too much to ever be missed.

In thinking of contact flight at low altitude in bad weather, it proved interesting to throttle back and trim at 110 m.p.h. The rate of climb from that speed is, of course, less than ships which normally cruise at 110, but in assuming a normal climbing angle or in making steep level turns the loss in airspeed from neither is in proportion to what it is in 110 m.p.h. ships. The controls are, of course, much softer, but still quite responsive, and being able to have so much shorting turning radius available in a pinch has its merits.

The disconcerting thing about flying what used to be regarded as fast airplanes, before flaps, was in riding along over wood-lot country and wondering just how smart it was to be buzzing around in a single motored whip that you know full well needed something the size of and with no worse than the obstruction situation of a least the average small airport to get down in.

It has been pointed out here that even thought it goes against the snap judgment of most all pilots, you really have to scratch to find a fatal accident in a commercial airplane in which it is possible to say that if the landing speed had been lower the fatality probably would not have occurred. Obviously there would have to be a top limit on landing speeds for that to hold good, and certainly the Spartan’s landing speed of 65 must be close to it. But even so, some of the early airline operators used single motored Lockheeds for many a year without a serious injury attributable to landing speed, and they did not always make an airport.

At any rate, it seems that at least a considerable part of any valid objections to the Executive’s landing speed are in a considerable measure off-set by the probably more important thing of glide path control.

While landing the ship is a little like sliding for third base, it does not seem to be as fast as 65 sounds, it is a rather easy landing, and most impressive of all is the feeling that you have not been flying around in what is sometimes termed an airport airplane.

Landing routine is (1) switch to 87 octane gas, (2) mixture control rich, (3) throttle back about three-quarters, so as to miss the horn, nose slightly up, (4) wheels down at 120 with check on red lights on instrument panel indicating down and locked, (5) throttle closed, (6) trim tail heavy, (7) propeller in flat pitch, (8) wing flaps down, (9) belly flaps down. (NOTE – unless the warning light standards of 1939 were different than they are today, the author likely meant green lights, not red)

The most impressive thing about the approach is the rapidity and steepness with which you come down. Obviously it is better to get the speed checked before heading in as you do not fall right into a accurate estimate of the slide from high speed down to around 120, but with the speed that low and the wheels down, it is possible to come up rather close to the field at around 1000 feet. There is a noticeable deceleration and nose heaviness as the wheels go down, flattening the prop puts on another highly effective brake, the wings flaps steepen the glide path without much change in speed, but when those belly flaps go down you really do head for the ground. The nose can be put well below trim position without the airspeed going past 110. At even a more normal approach speed, it seems like a cross between diving in and settling unusually fast, even though the nose is low. The ship feels fine at 100, even in S turns in the approach. With practice, 90 might come to be regarded as about minimum, but as compared to 100 it would make very little difference as to the point where the landing took place.

Obviously, to be cautious, the first approaches might well end with a little in the way of dragging in, but once onto the short gliding radius with everything on for landing it is desirable to watch closely a tendency to come closer to obstructions than intended. You are simply coming down more steeply than you realize, and where your judgment from more usual experience would be that you would clear by 50 feet you are more likely to go over at closer to 25 feet.

Leveling off just a little sooner than usual, it is hard to believe that 100 on the airspeed is not going to put you way down in the field, but it does not, for those flaps are down at a much greater than usual angle, and you are hardly leveled off before it is time to start getting the tail down

The ship has an excellent characteristic as it gets within a few feet of the ground, nose pretty well up, and that is in that the elevator control pressure gets very light. While that seems to be the time to do it, pulling the wheel full back does not get the landing immediately nor does it bring on a climb. It is almost a natural for three point.

In ships in which the nose rides so high, in landing position and in which there is not so much forward visibility around the sides in landing, there is a common difficulty at first in keeping the wings level. The tendency is usually to rudder to the left slightly to go where you are looking, and, of course, that tends to drop the left wing. In a ship of this weight getting a wing down just before landing is of much more significance than in a lighter ship, as it cannot be gotten up as quickly. Consequently, with so little in front that can be used in the way of visual reference too much attention cannot be given to not letting a wing get down in the first place.   This is the only respect in which the ship did not seem to show quite a normal amount of inclination to cover up. Naturally something has to be best, such as the amazing accuracy and safety of that nose down approach, or the way she practically puts a landing in your hand with the wheel feel there at the last, and something least. It is not meant that the lateral control situation just before a landing is serious or even objectionable, but rather that it is the thing to watch for otherwise easily attainable smooth landings.

With a rear seat load the brakes may be used heavily, and it will surprise you when you stop and turn around how little field is behind you for a ship of that size, and most particularly of its speed. In landing with no rear seat load it is probably better not to use brakes for about three seconds after contact, and if the ground is rough it seems desirable to ease the wheel a little just after contact as in that manner if it bounces off the ground it will come back three point, otherwise slightly tail and at times one wheel first, as there is less aileron control in the latter return.

Maybe flying the ship sounds too complicated, but the pilot might as well be doing something as nothing and the routine of take-offs and landings embodies the necessary ingredients of a fast cross county airplane. It is as well one that you do not have to secretly admit to yourself would be a handful to get into and a least on the ground in a small fields in a pinch. Around 200 cruising, a thousand miles range, five place, comfort, what are we waiting for in such a small world? $?