Tulsa Museum Chronicles American Aviation and Military History

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By on June 5, 2012 in Current Events with 1 Comment

Although the 19,000-square-foot Tulsa Air and Space Museum (TASM) focuses on Oklahoma history, must of what is on exhibit in this hanger-style building reflects aviation and military history on a national level.

Located on the edge of the Tulsa International Airport, displays are arranged chronologically beginning with a smoke balloon that flew above the city on July 4th, 1897 and spanning a century through aviation development, commercial airline travel, military advancements and the city’s contributions to the International Space Station and Space Shuttle.

The discovery of oil in the 1920s plays a prominent role in Tulsa’s aviation history. For example, oil man W.G. Skelly began his Spartan Aircraft Company and Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa.

On display are two Spartan aircraft — one of the only surviving Spartan C-2 aircraft and a Spartan NP-1. President George Herbert Walker Bush took his solo flight in a Spartan NP-1 during World War II.

Shortly before World War II Tulsa began gearing up for war. Spartan School of Aeronautics was training U.S. and British pilots in Tulsa and other Oklahoma locations. City fathers worked to make sure that an aircraft manufacturing plant would be located at Tulsa Municipal Airport which led to the beginning of the Douglas Aircraft Company. Construction of the plant began in March of 1941 and by fall of 1942 Douglas Tulsa was producing A-24s and B-24s. By war’s end Spartan had trained more than 16,000 pilots and mechanics, and Douglas had built thousands of aircraft.

One especially poignant World War II exhibit allows visitors to listen to the first-person accounts of Pearl Harbor survivors.

As history marches on, the next area focuses on commercial aviation featuring historic uniforms, documents and photos from American Airlines, Trans World Airlines and other commercial carriers. In 1946 American Airlines moved their Maintenance and Engineering Base from New York to Tulsa.

By the early 1950’s the manufacturing plant was reactivated to build Boeing’s B-47 as well as the Douglas B-66.

Featured Aircraft

The museum’s Bell 47K/HTL-7 was the first factory-built instrument trainer helicopter for the U.S. Navy and is one of only two left of the original 18 built. One of the world’s first amphibious ultralights, the XTC (Ecstasy), manufactured in Jenks, Oklahoma, is also on display.

TASM’s aircraft engine exhibit includes an 18 cylinder radial engine where you can push a button and see inside to understand how it works. Also on exhibit is the first mass-produced jet engine, the Jumo 004, which was used on German aircraft during World War II.

A popular hands-on exhibit is the Viper F-16 wind tunnel allowing guests to sit in the cockpit and operate a six-foot long model F-16 inside the tunnel. By working the control stick and rudder pedals visitors can see the control surfaces move, allowing the F-16 to pitch, roll and yaw.

The Star Cavalier on display was created for the early oil men. They required an aircraft that was capable of landings and take-offs from unimproved surfaces as well as short take-offs and landings. The backer of the Star Aircraft Company was oil man Frank Phillips. The aircraft was designed by Phillips Petroleum Aviation Manager W.D. Billy Parker. The company began production in 1928 and only 55 Cavaliers were completed before the Great Depression forced the closing of the company.

Space Race

The last area of the museum highlights the space program and the role Tulsa played in the space race.

After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, the newly created NASA came to Douglas Tulsa and asked if they could build a rocket capable of putting something into orbit.

Out of the need to counter the launching of Sputnik, Douglas Tulsa began work on what would soon be known as the Delta Program. By adding a second and third stage to the Thor Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, Douglas Tulsa helped create a rocket capable of putting a U.S. satellite into orbit. Once the concept was proven, the Delta Program was moved to California. The Delta rocket launched America’s first telecommunications satellite known as Echo IA.

When President John F. Kennedy made his speech to Congress in 1961 regarding putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth, North American Aviation moved into a portion of the Tulsa manufacturing plant and began work on the Saturn V rocket. Near the end of the Apollo Program work began on the Space Shuttle here.

North American Rockwell Tulsa was responsible for construction of all of the cargo bay doors for each of the orbiters. Most recently Tulsans, under the Boeing corporate banner, played a large part in the International Space Station program building 11 of the huge truss sections as well as the Integrated Electrical Assemblies that orient the large solar displays toward the sun.

One of the interactive exhibits in this area of the museum is the Space Maneuvering Unit offering visitors the experience of understanding what it feels like to work in the weightlessness of outer space. Riding on a cushion of air, visitors must try to aim a laser at the target overhead and hit the bulls-eye.

In another exhibit guests use a robotic arm to move a payload into a specific cylinder.

If you go:

  • Next door to the museum is a planetarium featuring educational presentations as well as related science-based films.
  • The museum and planetarium are located at 3624 North 74th East Ave in Tulsa. The facilities are open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays and major holidays.
  • For more information call (918) 834-9900 or check the website tulsaairandspacemuseum.org.

© 2017 Marilyn Jones. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Marilyn Jones.


About the Author

Marilyn Jones has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is currently a freelance feature writer specializing in travel. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers including the BostonGlobe, Akron Beacon Journal and Chicago Sun-Times as well as regional travel magazines.

Visit her website at travelwithmarilyn.com