Which one of six past champions would have gotten your vote?
- By Linda Shiner
- Air & Space magazine, August 2007
(Page 4 of 4)The Blankenburgs’ aircraft did its part in the war effort on the homefront: It flew for the Royal Air Force, which had a number of training bases in the United States. And it participated in an advertising campaign to urge private pilots to loan their airplanes for government use. In one print ad, actress Betty Grable stands on the wing of the Blankenburgs’ Spartan, urging aircraft owners to help Uncle Sam. The Spartan and the glamour girl seem made for each other.
Evocative of the 1930s embrace of the Modern, the Spartan Executive has inspired the Blankenburgs to surround it with fashions of the time. In their hangar home at Pine Mountain Lake Airport in California, 180 mannequins dressed in period clothing surround the airplane. “We get accused of being a museum, and we take that as a compliment,” Kent Blankenburg says. Although the airplane had no need for a major restoration when the Blankenburgs acquired it — for more than half of its life, the Executive, like many luxury automobiles, had had one owner who treated it well — the Blankenburgs had the interior reupholstered in leather and the fuselage stripes repainted in a tasteful Texaco green. The airplane, says Kent Blankenburg, flies like a champion and is an exemplar of the exquisite workmanship and sophisticated design that the American heartland was capable of in the 1930s.
Explaining why Betty Grable was a favorite pin-up girl among GIs during World War II, biographer Doug Warren once made a statement that could also describe the 1939 Spartan Executive: “It was more than the sexy picture that enamored them of her,” Warren wrote. “There was a magical wholesomeness and substance they saw beyond the curves of her figure.”
Sport - 1930 Kreider-Reisner KR-21A
Becoming the owner of an extraordinary airplane from aviation’s Golden Age is sometimes a matter of extraordinary luck. For his rare biplane, Pat McNerney owes his luck to Jack Tiffany’s son Nicholas. “Nick is ate up with antique aviation,” says Tiffany. “He finds most of our airplanes for us” — “us” being Leading Edge Aircraft in Spring Valley, Ohio: four airplane lovers who restore and eventually sell vintage aircraft. “We’re not a business,” says Tiffany. “We’re more of a cult.”
At the 1995 Oshkosh fly-in, when Nick was 16, he spotted flyers advertising an airplane his dad had long wished for: a 1930 Fairchild KR-21. Of 49 built, only 14 are still registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. The biplane started out as a sportier offering in the line of trainers built by the Kreider-Reisner Aircraft Company of Hagerstown, Maryland, which became part of Fairchild in 1929. Fairchild promotional materials of the time call the airplane “alert and sparkling” and say the Kreider-Reisner designers “were well ‘fed up’ with trying to wish a sluggish airplane over a line of trees.” With a loaded weight of only 1,500 pounds and a 125-horsepower Kinner engine, the pretty little airplane can jump into the air and climb at 800 feet per minute.
Nicholas Tiffany wanted his dad to have a shot at the KR-21, so he removed all the flyers that owner Mike Butler had posted except one, which he presented to his father. Jack Tiffany bought the airplane and spent three years restoring it with his partners. The wings were the biggest challenge: They are tapered and no two ribs are alike. “Rib number 3 on the left side wouldn’t fit on the right,” he says.
McNerney had also looked at a Waco biplane, but the KR, he says, “is a little more delicate than the Waco, and the cockpit is huge. Compared to a Great Lakes [biplane trainer], it’s like sitting in a hot tub.”