14 Nov 2013

The History of Spartan College

The modern aviation age, ushered in by the Wright Brothers’ flight in 1903, is just over 110 years old. Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa, OK, has been part of aviation’s story for more than 80 of those years. Since its founding in 1928, Spartan College has played an important role in educating pilots and technicians for military and civilian flight needs. This article describes the key events in Spartan’s long history, and its future as an aviation school for the 21st Century.

The Early Years
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first aviator to cross the Atlantic. This was more than an impressive feat of nerves—it put the possibility of regular commercial aircraft service within reach. William Skelly, an Oklahoma oil man, was inspired by this possibility, and decided to invest in aviation. He formed the corporation that built Tulsa Municipal Airport (today’s Tulsa International Airport), and purchased a struggling aircraft manufacturer, the Mid-Continent Aircraft Company. He re-launched this corporation as Spartan Aircraft, and opened the doors of the Spartan School of Aeronautics on September 27, 1928. Spartan quickly established a reputation as a superior training facility for both mechanics and pilots. Spartan’s famous Black Cat logo dates from this period. The Black Cat with a 13 was the insignia of Spartan’s “Dawn Patrol”, an exclusive group of pilots who practiced cross-country and formation flying early in the morning. Their motto, “Knowledge and Skill Overcome Superstition and Luck”, is still part of Spartan College’s culture today.

The Great Depression and the War Years
Spartan’s reputation attracted the attention of American and foreign military organizations who needed to train pilots and mechanics. Spartan began to provide training to allied and American air personnel. When the Great Depression struck, Skelly sought outside investment to keep the school afloat. He gained the support of J. Paul Getty, who acquired a majority stake in Spartan in 1942. Getty began to expand the school, making it possible for Spartan to train thousands more mechanics and pilots during World War II. This included American flyers as well as hundreds of Royal Air Force pilots who went on to fight the Battle of Britain.

Post-War: A Shift to Civil Aviation
After the war, Spartan ceased to manufacture aircraft, although some parts were still manufactured during the early years of the Cold War. Instead, it began to focus its training on civil aviators. More than ten thousand G.I. Bill students passed through Spartan in the five years, and in the late 1940s Spartan provided TWA pilots with instrument training. In the late 60s, Spartan re-located its flight training facilities to R.L. Jones Airport, south of Tulsa. Getty’s ownership of Spartan School came to an end in 1968, when the school was sold to Automation Industries. Inc. The new owners then built the Pine Street Campus, and moved the school there in 1969.

1970 – 2001: International Influence
Spartan’s ownership changed hands yet again in 1971, when it became a subsidiary of the National Education Corporation. For the next several decades, the school provided training for domestic aviators and technicians, while also helping foreign pilots bring their skills up to American standards. Pilots and mechanics have trained at Spartan from:

  • South Korea’s EVA Airlines
  • The United Arab Emirates’ Civil Air Defense Command
  • Chinese airlines

In 1996, Spartan School of Aeronautics renewed its association with the U.S. military when it was awarded a five-year contract to train technicians for the United States Air Force.

2001- Present: Entering the 21st Century
In 2001, Spartan Aviation Industries, Inc. became the owner of Spartan School. Under the new management, the school expanded and refined its programming. Its new range of course offerings, including NDT and bachelor’s-level programming, ultimately led to the school changing its name to Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in 2004. In 2012, Spartan Education, LLC took on ownership of the school. In 2013, Spartan College signed a five-year, $12 million partnership with the USAF to train Air Force Air Advisors who will be assisting Afghanistan’s security services. After graduating more than 90,000 technicians and pilots in its 85-year history, Spartan College is prepared to have even more of an impact on aviation in years to come.