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Spartan FBW-1 « Zeus » (Model 8W): from would-be god to hangar queen

Stargazer2006

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Spartan named it after the Greek "Ruler of the Heavens", but all of the company's plans for tapping the military market with this plane proved to be in vain.

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[Spartan's] next attempt to enter the military market [after the company sold one "Executive" to the Chinese] was more serious, and involved the near complete modification of the Executive fuselage structure. This plane would be called the "Zeus", after the ancient Greek god who was "Ruler of the Heavens".

Under the direction of Walter Hurty, chief engineer for Spartan, the prototype was started down the assembly line in early 1937. Factory photos show it partially completed, evidently being built just after S/N 10 Executive, having been given a S/N 8W-1, and identified as NX17612. According to company press releases, the plane would out-perform any single engine military ship then on the market.

The "Zeus" was described as a two-place attack bomber, designed for maximum efficiency in either defense or offense. The airplane would carry ten 25 lb. bombs, five under each wing, and three machine guns. The cockpits were arranged so the pilot occupied the front, and the observer, or bombardier, occupied the rear. One of the machine guns was flexibly mounted for use by the observer. The other two were mounted in the wings, fixed so as to fire forward at the direction of the pilot.

However, the plane could be arranged in other ways than as an attack bomber. It could also be used as a two-place fighter or a two place observation plane. Another version was being planned to be used for advanced training purposes. Of course, when used as a trainer, the armament would be removed and certain other changes would be made, including complete dual controls and instrument panels. (Note: Although these were logical ideas at the time, in actual practice the plane would have only been useful as a trainer. Its performance was roughly equivalent
to the North American AT-6). Provisions were also made for the installation of floats. Hopefully, the Navy would be interested in the plane.

Under standard specifications, the gross weight of the ship with armament would be 4500 pounds. Empty weight would be 3050 pounds; ten 25 lb. bombs would weigh 250 pounds; it would carry 1200 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition weighing 100 pounds; 160 pounds of armament, 30 pounds of radio, and a crew of two weiglling 360 pounds.

Standard equipment called for a Pratt and Whitney Wasp S3H1 engine of 550 horsepower, but the Wright R975-E or Wasp Junior could also be installed. A Hamilton-Standard constant speed propeller was fitted on the prototype. Also included as standard equipment were: Eclipse starter, Eclipse generator, Autofan wheels, General streamline tires, Cleveland Pneumatic aerol shock struts, Grimes wing position lights, Pyle-National tail light, Reading 12 volt battery, fire extinguisher, fresh air ducts, stick control and Bendix brakes.

A complete set of instruments was provided, either Pioneer or Kollsman, including an airspeed indicator, altimeter, turn and bank indicator, plus all appropriate engine instruments.

The Spartan Model 8W S/N 1 was the only Zeus ever built. All of the company's plans for tapping the military market with this plane proved to be in vain. The career and ultimate fate of the Zeus is somewhat of a mystery. Early photos, including the factory assembly line photo taken in 1937, show it with Mexican military markings. Spartan was reported at the time to be seeking a large contract with Mexico for this warplane. This would lead to speculation that the plane was actually sold for use in the Spanish civil war, as had some of its earlier Executive cousins. Later, in 1939, it was issued an special experimental license for "One flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Los Angeles & return before 8-24-39".

There is no record as to the outcome of this trip. Likely it was made to demonstrate the plane to either foreign or domestic military buyers. Later the plane is pictured in publicity photos showing typical work being done by students in the mechanics school. When a special program opened in October of 1941 to train employees for the new Tulsa bomber plant, the plane was shown in shop photos accompanied by this press release:

"At the inception, Spartan will offer two courses of 480 hours each. To the elaborate and modern equipment already available, Spartan had recently added a $40,000 Spartan Zeus military fighter. This airplane is an all-metal, low-wing monoplane powered by a 550 HP Hornet engine. The engine, instruments, propeller, lubrication and fuel systems are complete. As far as is known, Spartan is the only school in the country to make available this high type oftraining. "

After the war ended, some thought was given to re-engining the plane, in fact a project was launched to install a surplus Ranger V-12 engine, retrieved from scrapped L-21's. But it soon became evident that this would result in an extremely nose-heavy machine, and the idea was scrapped.

So the Spartan Zeus, which had been introduced with such high hopes and publicity, ended its life as a hangar queen, used to train students for work on other, more successful airplanes.


SPECIFICATIONS:

Span: 39 ft.
Length: 27 ft.
Height: 8 ft. 4 in.
Wing Area: 250 sq. ft.
Seats: 2
Power: 550 HP
Fuel: 118 gal
Gross weight: 4500 Ibs.
Empty weight: 3050 Ibs.
Initial R/C: 1650 ft./min.
Range: 680 miles
Cruising speed: 210 mph


Source: THE SPARTAN STORY, by Chet Peek with George Goodhead (Three Peaks Publishing, 1994)
 

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Stargazer2006

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More photos (this time in Mexican guise), two three-view plans, the plane's license, and even a 1939 Shelby Gum card!
 

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