Nearly nine decades after it was first built in Wichita, a Watkins Skylark is making its presence in the Air Capital of the World known again.
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Only six planes were built by Everett Watkins’ business venture, Watkins Aircraft Co.
This is the only one in the world to survive — and it took more than a dozen years and countless hours by Kansas Aviation Museum volunteers to rebuild and restore. On Thursday, the plane was dedicated in a new exhibit at the museum.
I want to express my awe in the magic these folks have worked to create this. … It is a beautiful, beautiful artifact for us to have in the museum. And its story is extraordinarily Wichita.
Dana Steffee, executive director, Kansas Aviation Museum
“I want to express my awe in the magic these folks have worked to create this,” said the museum’s new director, Dana Steffee. “I think for me to put this into perspective, it is like starting out with tiny pieces and turning it into something magnificent.
“It is a beautiful, beautiful artifact for us to have in the museum. And its story is extraordinarily Wichita.”
The story began when Marvin Kline of Milan, Kan., called the museum years ago and said he had some pieces of a plane stored in an old boxcar on his farm. The pieces had been collected by an uncle.
The museum’s restoration team had little to work with besides those pieces — they had to create blueprints from scratch and build up from there.
“This was a rare and unique designed plane,” said Terry Dobson, the museum’s restoration manager.
“Only six of them were under construction at the time of the stock market crash in 1929.”
On hand for Thursday’s dedication, which drew about 50 people, was Wichitan Brad Watkins, grandson of Everett Watkins.
Watkins said his grandfather was helping out in his father’s blacksmith’s shop in Manchester, Okla., when one day a hot ember flew into his eye and permanently blinded him. The accident caused him to choose another occupation — banking and entrepreneurial-type businesses.
Everett Watkins eventually decided to try his hand at aviation.
The Watkins Skylark SL NC 102V now on exhibit at the museum was built in 1931 at the Watkins Aircraft Co., 2300 E. Douglas, across from East High School.
It was sold to Frank Powell of El Dorado in February 1931 and was involved in a crash in 1933. The plane’s license was canceled in May 1933.
“The story I heard was that during a test flight the plane crashed, killing either the pilot or a passenger,” Brad Watkins said.
“My grandfather thought about it, and he didn’t want to be in a business that killed people, so he shut down the operations and the Skylark became history.”
On Thursday, Steffee presented Watkins and his wife, Gloria, a framed piece of the plane’s original fabric.
Kline modestly told the crowd that he had no need for the plane’s pieces on his Sumner County farm.
“I’m glad we could donate them,” Kline said. “It is a beautiful plane and a joy to be up here today to see it.”