A look back at Spartan College’s 90 years
It's been a long flight for Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Here are some historical highlights.
1926: William G. Skelly, a successful oilman who provides oil for airplanes, decides to start his own aircraft manufacturing firm and founds the Spartan Aircraft Co.
William G. Skelly, a successful oilman who provides oil for airplanes, decides to start his own aircraft manufacturing firm and founds the Spartan Aircraft Co.
Skelly starts the Spartan School of Aeronautics, located across East Apache Street from the Tulsa International Airport, initially to promote sales of his aircraft and train pilots on their use.
Through a series of oil company transactions, ownership of Spartan transfers from Skelly to J. Paul Getty, who later earns the distinction of being the world’s richest man.
The Spartan “Dawn Patrol” becomes famous in the area for its early morning, low-altitude formation flying that catches the attention of Tulsa residents. It also popularizes the famous Spartan logo with the black cat and No. 13, symbolizing the philosophy, “In aviation, there’s no room for luck and superstition, it’s about knowledge and skill.”
With World War II breaking out in Europe, and possibly anticipating the United States’ eventual involvement, Spartan begins training U.S. Army Air Corps pilots and technicians. Over the course of the war, Spartan trains about 14,000 U.S. AAC aviation cadets.
Before the U.S. enters the war, Spartan begins training British Royal Air Force pilots.
With World War II raging, Spartan expands its operations to include aeronautical engineering, mechanics, meteorology and communications. Spartan establishes Oklahoma branches in Miami, Muskogee and Ponca City to handle the demand of training pilots, mechanics and technicians for both the U.S. and British militaries.
After the war ends, Getty reverses prior plans to continue making new commercial airplanes, shutting down the aircraft manufacturing business completely, instead focusing on building mobile home trailers to help house the returning veterans. The school continues to admit new aeronautical students.
Getty shuts down the Spartan trailer manufacturing factory and sells the company, leaving just the Spartan school in operation.
Getty sells the Spartan school to Automation Industries.
Spartan is sold again, this time to the National Education Corp., joining a conglomerate of about 50 schools across the U.S. Soon afterward, the school begins its non-destructive testing program and then its avionics (aviation electronics) program to keep up with advancing technologies.
“Probably the biggest program change we’ve seen is with avionics over the years,” says Damon Bowling, Spartan’s dean of campus operations. “The other one that has really grown for us is non-destructive testing,” which uses X-ray and ultrasound to find hairline fractures, cracks and other flaws in aircraft parts — methods that do not damage other components.
Other industries adopt the testing approach and look for employees with the hands-on skills to do the testing, growing Spartan’s program.
Spartan is awarded a five-year contract to train U.S. Coast Guard technicians in aviation maintenance.
Harcourt Brace buys the National Education Corp. and becomes Spartan’s new owner.
Spartan Aviation Industries is formed by Spartan’s management team that purchases the school from Harcourt Brace.
The first of several different contracts is signed by Spartan to train Chinese airline pilots.
Spartan School of Aeronautics changes its name to Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology to better reflect the level of educational degree options available and the expanding array of technology fields offered.
Spartan signs a contract with the U.S. Air Force for a train-the-trainer program geared toward ending U.S. involvement in Iraq. The trainers then go to Iraq and pass on their knowledge to the Iraqis, so the U.S. can leave.
Spartan Education Group purchases the school from Spartan Aviation Industries.
Spartan acquires the former Crimson Technical College in the Los Angeles area, which has been the other main provider of aviation maintenance training in the United States over the previous 75 years. CTC is renamed and brought under the growing Spartan umbrella.
Spartan adds another LA-area campus in Riverside at the Flabob Airport.
The Spartan expansion continues, acquiring the former Redstone College in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, Colorado, and adding it to the Spartan family. The new facility specializes in aviation maintenance as well as HVAC heating/air conditioner skills-based training.
Spartan also launches its new partially online program, the first one approved by the Federal Aviation
Administration, that allows students to focus on the theory-heavy, classroom-type work first remotely, and then come to Tulsa to get hands-on training.
“It allows students to do online studies for aviation maintenance technician, and then finish up with just being in Tulsa in a classroom, six hours a day, five days a week for only six months,” Bowling says. “(2018) is our first year to receive graduates from the program, but they’re doing very well. It’s going to be exciting to see that program change and grow.”
While the specifics have changed over the years, the quality of the instruction has remained at a high standard as the college has diversified its educational options.
More than 600 students are enrolled at the Technology Campus near the Tulsa International Airport, which offers certificates and degrees in aviation maintenance technology, aviation electronics technology, non-destructive testing, quality control, as well as a Bachelor of Science in aviation technology management.
The Flight Campus, located at Richard L. Jones Airport in southwest Tulsa, offers diploma and associate programs in aviation flight, the path to becoming a professional pilot, and currently has 228 students.
Photos: Courtesy Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-county Library and Tulsa Historical Society and Museum; Courtesy Tulsa Historical Society and Museum; Remainder: Courtesy Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology
Late October marks the 90th anniversary of the Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology, and the school is making a big deal of the milestone.
Public festivities will take place from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Oct. 20, at the south campus, located at the Richard L. Jones Airport, 8605 S. Elwood Ave.
“We’re going to do what we call a ‘Dawn Patrol’ that morning to fly a bunch of airplanes in all at one time,” says Damon Bowling, Spartan’s dean of campus operations. “Alumni and the public will be invited to see what Spartan is doing today. We’re looking forward to a day of celebration.”
There also will be some restored Spartan Executive airplanes, the 1930s-era luxury airplanes the Spartan aircraft company built for wealthy, high-powered executives of the time, as well as the Spartan C3, a bi-plane from the same timeframe.