Charles Lindbergh’s May 1927 transatlantic flight is credited with stoking an unprecedented national sense of airmindedness.
A friend of Lindbergh’s, Oliver Parks, established Parks Air College that December and embarked on a mission to educate pilots and aeronautical engineers to meet the demands of industry.
Parks’ bag of tricks included having students build aircraft that were used in the college’s flight training program. The first of these was the P-1, a very conventional biplane powered by an OX-5 engine, its radiator placed between and just ahead of the main landing gear struts extending from the belly of the forward fuselage.
The project airplanes were not kits or partially assembled aircraft. Each Parks biplane began as a rack of steel tubing, wood for fairing and wing construction, and fabric and dope to finish the aircraft.
The scratchbuilt Parks P-1 bore a resemblance to the OX-5 powered Kreider-Reisner Challenger.
Dimensions of the Parks P-1 are very close, but not always identical, to those of the K-R Challenger. In an era of aircraft built by hand, one wonders if the student-built P-1s and the Kreider-Reisner Challengers might have had slight dimensional variations.
The P-1 was a three-place open-cockpit design. It is believed more than 45 P-1s were built. Length was just over 24′. Span was 30′, 1″, for the upper wing and 28′, 9″ for the lower. Both wings had a chord of 63.5″ and relied on the Aeromarine Modified airfoil.
Spruce comprised the wing spars. Spruce wing ribs used typical plywood gussets.
The Parks P-1 biplane was about 95 pounds heavier than the Challenger. The P-1’s empty weight of 1,331 pounds allowed a useful load of 747 pounds. With 32 gallons of gasoline, this left 355 pounds.
The 90-horsepower Curtiss OX-5 engine could get the P-1 going 100 mph; normal cruise was 85. The P-1 landed at 37 mph.
Price of a finished Parks P-1 not kept for the college’s use was $3,165. The supplied OX-5 engine might be new or used.
Both upper and lower wings of the P-1 had ailerons, connected with streamlined push-pull tubes. Straight axle landing gear used rubber shock cord for shock absorption. The slim steel tailskid featured a removable hardened shoe for replacement as it wore down.
The Parks P-2 followed, using essentially the same airframe as the P-1, but riding behind a radial engine. Interestingly, dimensions given for the Parks P-2 vary again slightly from those for the P-1 and the Kreider-Reisner Challenger, but not by much.
The Parks P-2 came about when the Parks college determined it needed a training aircraft with higher performance than the OX-5 powered P-1 for more advanced flight training. Power for the P-2 came from a seven-cylinder radial Axelson motor of 115-150 horsepower, topping the old OX-5’s 90 horses. Another key change from the P-1 was the P-2’s use of split axle landing gear. The P-2 also dispensed with the top wing’s ailerons that had been designed into the P-1.
The heftier radial engine gave the P-2 a faster top speed of 115 miles per hour and a cruise speed boosted to 98. The next iteration, the P-2A, flew behind a five-cylinder 165 horsepower Wright J6 radial engine, and earned Approved Type Certificate Number 276.
Parks was under the umbrella of the Detroit Aircraft Corporation for awhile, and some P-2s had airframe serial numbers consistent with that company’s numbering rationale. Construction of the biplanes was moved to the Detroit Aircraft facility in that Michigan city as an economy measure in 1930 when the Depression inhibited aircraft sales for a number of companies. Ryan Aircraft Co. was also part of the Detroit conglomerate, and some radial-engine Parks biplanes were built as the Ryan Speedster.
Parks Air College, that innovative dream of Oliver Parks, survived the Depression and several iterations over the ensuing decades. In 1946, Oliver Parks donated the school to Saint Louis University. Long a fixture in Cahokia, Illinois, that historic airfield campus was closed in 1996 and the school’s aviation functions relocated across the Mississippi River in Saint Louis, Missouri.
Today Oliver Parks’ vision thrives as Parks College of Engineering, Aviation and Technology, a part of Saint Louis University.