13 Dec 2012

Spartan C3 – Restored Beauty by Dennis Henson

Spartan C3 Restoration
Spartan Aircraft Company built the first Spartan C-3 biplane in 1930. The airplane was designed and built to provide safety and rapid transportation for a pilot and two passengers. I first saw the Spartan C-3 in the Tulsa Air and Space museum where Spartan had donated the airplane in 1998. I wanted to return the airplane to its original glory and received permission to restore the airplane in September 2007. In November, the plane was ferried to the maintenance hangar at Spartan Flight School, Riverside Airport in Jenks, Oklahoma. In the maintenance hangar, I began what was to be a long and detailed restoration project. As I started the restoration, I had to inspect and analyze the C-3. There were no blue prints and little information about the airplane and I so realized what a project this would be. I began by removing the fuselage skin and discovered that the wood used was for building homes, not aircraft. The aircraft frame was stripped bare. The frame was sandblasted and painted. The longerons, bulkheads, and floors were replaced. Most of the new parts had to be handmade. Basically, the only original parts on the fuselage are the pilot’s stick and the pilot’s wooden seat base. Originally, I was only going to re-skin the fuselage, but, I needed to make sure that the wood in the wings was aircraft quality. So, off came the wing skin. Surprisingly, the wing’s wood was in excellent condition for being 80 years old. The wings and fuselage were recovered using a poly-fiber process which required FAA approval. The interior was replaced with new leather upholstery. Swirled polished aluminum was installed on the floor at strategic locations to prevent worn areas on the wood flooring. I handmade the copilot’s control stick and I carved the handle for the pilot’s control stick.On both, I installed a push to talk and transmit switch for the radios. Avionics installation included a Garmin radio, transponder, and a helicopter intercom. All antennas were installed inside of the fuselage to maintain a 1930’s appearance. There wasn’t an electric system, so I installed a wind generator and finished with a new, 406 Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT). New fuel lines, screws, bolts, brake cables, and pulleys were replaced with modern hardware. The fuel tank was rusty and was cleaned and encased with fiberglass. Inspection of the landing struts revealed they were filled with water and very rusty. One cylinder on the strut had to be cut off and a new one made. Modern “O” rings replaced the leather “O” rings of the 1930s. After five attempts, I made the missing rear navigation light from a mold. Amazingly, I found original instrument panel lights on a shelf in Spartan’s hangar. The missing data plate was replaced with a reproduction. The infamous Spartan head and other decals were reproduced based on a picture of the C-3 in a 1930’s advertisement. The C-3 was indeed a complex and time consuming project. It took approximately 3,600 hours to complete. However, through hard work, dedication and prayer the Spartan C-3 took back to the skies for its maiden flight on January 29, 2011. I thoroughly enjoyed restoring her to the original beauty and I hope she continues to fly and entertain people for years to come. 

Aircraft Specs
Fuel Capacity . 60 gal.
Oil Capacity 6.5 gal.
Maximum Speed . 132.7 mph
Cruising Speed 110 mph
Landing Speed . 52 mph
Rate of Climb . 1,160 fpm@sl
Range 460 miles
Service ceiling . 15,000 ft
Fuel Consumption . 13.5 gal/hr Price (1930) . $7,750
Operating Cost (1930) 14.2 cents/mile

Keep track of the C3 missions and airshows on Facebook!