It’s known as the Air Capital of the World. While the aviation industry might seem that it is on the decline regarding building aircraft, centrally located Wichita, Kansas is still a hotbed for the industry. Hosting Textron Aviation (formally Beechcraft and Cessna), Learjet, Airbus, and Spirit AeroSystems still operate facilities in Wichita.
It all began back in 1917 when Clyde Cessna built the Cessna Comet, the first aircraft built in Wichita. Then in the 1920’s saw the take off of both Beechcraft and Stearman Aircraft and quickly their after the Aeronautical Chamber Of Commerce dubbed Wichita the Air Capital of the World.
After spending some time, and many flights out of Dwight D. Eisenhower Airport (formally known as Mid-Continent Airport), it was a shock to learn that it was not the site that the local passenger airport all along. In 1935, the completion of Wichita Municipal Airport on the southeast side of town was the original terminal of Wichita. During the 1940s, Wichita Municipal Airport was one of the busiest airports in the nation, with a plane taking off and landing every 90 seconds. However at that same time, Wichita saw a boom in the manufacturing of the B-29 Bomber for World War II and as a result in, in 1951, the air force took control of the airport to build McConnell Air Force base, shifting all non-military flights to the current location on the southwest side of town.
Kansas Aviation Museum
Throughout the years, the building was no longer needed and sat vacant from 1984 to 1991 when the Kansas Aviation Museum called the old airport terminal home. An archive with over a thousands records, schematics, books, and more call the museum home. One of the more interesting stops in the museum is the history collection of aircraft engines and cockpit displays.
When you walk into the main terminal, you can almost hear former travelers walking and talking as they wait to board their plane. The beautifully redone terminal provides you just a glimpse of how much the times have changed and how much easier air travel was in the early 40s. Imagine you are Charles Lindbergh or Amelia Earhart (Kansas native) as they crossed the ramp and dined in the terminal.
Open the doors to the tarmac, and suddenly you see just how far those times have come. With aircraft ranging from a Boeing 727 to a KC-135, walking among the huge airplanes is a playground for both history buffs and children alike. Many of which you are able to walk in and explore.
Back inside, you are able to take your new found flying skills to the test in their flight simulators. Once you have those mastered, step up to the old control tower and see if you can control an aircraft taking off or landing every 90 seconds. Take in the view of McConnell Air Force Base the former Boeing facility on the highest point in Wichita.
Prices and Hours
The Kansas Aviation Museum is open Tuesday-Friday 9 am to 3 pm and on weekends from 9 am to 5 pm.
The cost will set you back $9.50 for adults and $7.50 for kids 4-12 (3 and under are free).
From the Air to Ground
When you are done with the Kansas Aviation Museum, make rails to the Great Plains Railway Museum downtown. In the two-story museum, you’ll see old railroad maps when there were tracks to just about anywhere you wanted to go in the states. Be sure to ask one of the knowledgeable volunteers about the different signals that conductors used.
Take a step outside, and you’ll find yourself among several different locomotive engines, including a Santa Fe steam locomotive. You’ll be able to walk around it and see the massive train and the power that it took to pull passengers along the railroad in the 40’s and 50’s. Make your way to the north side of the train yard and explore the many different cabooses that the Great Plains Railway Museum has to offer and see what it was like to travel as part of the crew on a cross-country train trip. When you are ready to head back be sure top stop by Locomotive #93 and see the modern power of a diesel locomotive. Many of the locomotives on display, you and your kids will be able to walk through and explore. You’ll even hear the ring of the bell from the Santa Fe steam locomotive as kids pretend to be a train engineer.
Prices and Hours
The Great Plains Railway Museum is open Saturdays from 9 am to 4 pm and on Sundays from 1 pm to 4 pm, except November to March when the museum is closed on Sunday.
For adults you’ll be able to begin your railway excursion at $7, kids from 4-12 are $4, and 3 and under are free.
Wichita is the hub
No matter what museum you decide to visit, one or both, you’ll realize just how much Wichita is rich in the history of the transportation industry.