“Mrs. Mennen”

Spartan 7W Exectutive, Serial #34

The Mrs. Mennen was completed on September 9, 1940 by the Spartan Aircraft Company of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The last of these beautiful airplanes produced, this plane was purchased new by Texaco for use in the New York area.  According to Texaco records, it was delivered to the company on September 29, 1940, at a purchase price of $26,200.40.  It was one of five Executives owned by Texaco.  However, it was the only Executive purchased directly from the Spartan Aircraft Company – the others were obtained second or third handed from other owners.  While owned by Texaco, the Mrs. Mennen was based at Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York.

On January 2, 1953 the aircraft was re-purchased by the Spartan Aircraft Company.  During the next two years, the airframe and engine were both put through the Spartan School of Aeronautics, which was owned by and affiliated with the Spartan Aircraft Company.  A major overhaul was completed.  When the aircraft emerged from the school two years later, its airframe and engine were certified as zero time – a new airplane.  The aircraft remained the property of the Spartan Aircraft Company until September 1958.

The aircraft was owned by two different private owners prior to being purchased by George Mennen of the Mennen Company, Morristown, New Jersey in the Spring of 1969.  It was at that time its trim was repainted “Mennen green” and the aircraft was named the “Mrs. Mennen”. During Mennen’s ten years of ownership, the Mrs. Mennen was flown extensively throughout the United States.

On July 11, 1978, the Mrs. Mennen became the subject of further notoriety when George Mennen and his passenger survived a crash landing at Morristown (NJ) Airport.  Upon takeoff, Mennen felt the retractable landing gear “swinging back and forth” shortly after attempting to retract the gear.  After a fly-by, he was notified by the control tower that the right landing gear was dangling perilously from the underside of the airplane.  While circling in an attempt to use up fuel on board, the gear fell off.  The landing gear measuring nearly 3 feet high and weighing 100+ pounds bounced off the roof of a nearby bank – coming to rest safely in the parking lot below. Having burned off nearly all of the fuel, Mennen guided the Spartan to Morristown Airport’s runway 23. As the Mrs. Mennen skidded to a halt in roughly 175 feet, Mennen and his passenger smelled smoke and saw flames.  A fuel line had ruptured, allowing the minimal amount of fuel that remained to ignite a fire.  They scrambled from the airplane, allowing the fire department to douse the fire.  Unfortunately, however, the fire was able to severely damage the Mrs. Mennen’s interior and tarnish her otherwise polished exterior (which was now partially mangled from the impact).  Mennen called for a flat bed truck to move the aircraft to a hangar where “repairs would soon begin.”

While it was in the process of being rebuilt, the Smithsonian expressed interest in acquiring the Mrs. Mennen, as did the burgeoning EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  It was Mennen’s wish that it go to the EAA. However, one minor adjustment had to be made before the transaction was completed.  The EAA wanted the very oldest specimen Executive. So Mennen traded airplanes with the owner of serial # 2 (# 1 was a prototype and no longer existed).  Number 2 was then repainted “Mennen green” and named “Mrs. Mennen” in homage to serial # 34.  That airplane is on display at the EAA museum in Oshkosh today.

Mennen sought to complete his donation in time for the EAA museum’s scheduled opening.  Therefore, prior to Mennen’s restoration being completed, serial # 34 became the property of the award winning master restorer with whom he had traded for serial # 2.  The new owner set out to pick up where the Spartan factory left off in the 1953 zero time overhaul. The Mrs. Mennen was painstakingly upgraded and overhauled over the course of seven years – all the while carefully balancing technological advances with historical integrity.  The refurbishment process included manufacturing new components, updating instruments, installing a new interior, and doing a great deal of polishing on a continuous basis. After reemerging in 1991, the aircraft won awards at every fly-in it attended.

The Mrs. Mennen (# 34) changed hands two more times before it was acquired by Will Mennen, George Mennen’s grandson, and brought back to New Jersey in time to celebrate George Mennen’s 85th birthday. Will assembled a top-notch team to re-christen and refurbish the Mrs. Mennen.  That team was headed by the master restorer who completed the 1980’s restoration.  The Mrs. Mennen was meticulously reconditioned. The aircraft’s trim was returned to “Mennen green” (it had been painted red by a previous owner), her avionics were upgraded, control surfaces were recovered, new modern disk brakes were installed, and the landing gear trunions were replaced with new modern metals (to avoid a repeat of the Mrs. Mennen’s 1978 belly landing).

Today the Mrs. Mennen has regained all of her splendor, and stands as a living example of why the Spartan Executive is among the most prized of antique aircraft.  The Mrs. Mennen is the last of a rare breed.  The Mrs. Mennen truly is an “Aristocrat of the Air”.

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