01/31/2009. Remarks by Bob Cieslak: Parks Air College was founded in 1927 by Oliver "Lafe" Parks as America's first federally approved school of aeronautics - training pilots and aircraft mechanics. I graduated from Parks College in 1965, and throughout my college tenure, many stories were told to us students about the airplanes that Parks used to build right here on our airport campus in Cahokia, Illinois (across the Mississippi River at St. Louis).
Two years after Parks Air College was founded, the Parks Aircraft Manufacturing Company was formed to build the Model P-1. Parks Air College used a few of the P-1's in their pilot training and aircraft mechanic programs, and the rest were sold on the commercial market. The P-1 was a three-seat open cockpit training or touring type biplane powered by a 90 hp Curtiss OX-5 water cooled engine. For pilot training, the student flew from the rear seat. For passenger rides, the control stick was removed and 2 people could be squeezed into the single front seat.
Parks produced 45 P-1's, as a student I did see a picture of the assembly line, where 10 to 15 fuselages all lined up side by side in the main manufacturing building. This large building was later converted into labs and classrooms for the engineering and A&P students. This building and main hanger, along with the original engine test stands, still exist as of this writing.
The flying characteristics of the Parks P-1 were not spectacular. Due to being underpowered, the rate of climb was terrible. But it met the certification requirements of that time period by "...having a positive rate of climb", whatever that amounted to. In flight, the plane was unstable. If you moved your hand from the control stick to attend to something else, in just moments it might be in a climb, a dive or in a bank.
The Parks P-1, built in 1929, was the first of four models manufactured at the college. The original model was painted green with orange wings, and had a price tag of $3,165. In 1991, Parks College held a successful fundraiser and purchased the only flyable Parks P-1, NC964K, c/n 198-16, from a California collector and brought it back "home". In 1992, they flew it to the annual EAA Convention & Fly-In in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and won EAA's award for outstanding open cockpit biplane.
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to attend my 40th year reunion at Parks College and got my first look at the Parks Model P-1. It is a beautiful airplane, typical of the 1929 period, right down to its' tailskid.
At the time of that reunion, the original OX-5 engine had been replaced with a modern Chevrolet engine. But you would not know it by just looking at it. None of the original cowling had been modified whatsoever. The new engine exhaust manifolds and exhaust pipes were exact reproductions of the original OX-5 exhaust system, with the exception that they bolted directly to the Chevrolet engine. The tired OX-5 engine was completely rebuilt and refinished as a student project, and is now prominently displayed in the college's administration building.
In 2007, in honor of the 80th Anniversary of Parks College, the completely restored P-1 was displayed at the Missouri History Museum's "Flight City" exhibit.