Tuesday, July 4, 2017
KANSAS AVIATION MUSEUM
WHICHITA KANSAS AVIATION MUSEUM
When visiting the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita, I worked my way up the narrow curving steps to the control tower, at 1500 feet one of the highest points in the city. The view of the sky line was breathtaking.
Attractive modern buildings were on one side and on the other side was the museum area with visitors exploring the collection of fascinating airplanes that had been designed or redesigned and manufactured in the city. The planes had met our country's needs in peace and war and contributed to the growth and prosperity of the city.
On the field were the small airplanes: a Cessna, several Beechcrafts and a Learjet that had greatly expanded private use. These were the planes the city based its reputation on as the "Air Capital of the World."
Their publicity claims they have manufactured more than half of the world's light aircraft and business jets, in addition to being a major builder of commercial airliners.
The bottom picture is of a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress first built in 1952 and continues as our heavy bomber to this day.
Standing out on the runway amidst the collection of planes built here, including a Boeing 737 and Boeing 727, was an old Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the massive bomber first used in 1952 that continues to be our main heavy bomber to this day.
Although the prototypes were built at the Boeing plant in Seattle, in 1957 all production was moved to Wichita where production ended in 1962 with 742 airplanes having been built. Today the B-52 is considered the long rifle of the air force because it has a range of 8,800 miles without aerial refueling.
One of the docents told me that if I was staying until Saturday, I would be able to climb inside and explore their B 29, the bomber used in the Pacific war zone in World War II. Too bad it did not fit my schedule.
The area was the Wichita Municipal Airport from the 1930's until 1954. In those days planes needed refueling on the way from one coast to another. Wichita became that point, and as a result many famous people of the day such as Fred Astaire, Bob Hope and Howard Hughes walked and mingled on terminal's floors. The area became known as the "Country Club without dues."
During World War II this was the fifth busiest airport in the country because it was the stopping off point for coast to coast flights. It was also the testing field for the tens of thousands of airplanes being built for the war effort in Wichita.
The airport stopped being a commercial stop in 1954, but continued as a military base until1984, and became a museum in 1991. I found the first of the three floors a bit dull at times since engines and propellers by themselves don't interest me as much as some others might find them
The Swallow, 1920, the first commercial airplane built
The second floor, however, had a remarkable collection of private planes with names well known to us: Cessna and Beechcrafts. A variety of cockpits were available for examination including the freedom to get into the cockpit if you are limber enough. The cockpits had been used for the first training experience of future pilots so they could familiarize themselves with the complicated instrument panels.
Hands-on experiences for children included a trainer and a cockpit where visitors can raise and lower the planes' wheels.
Third floor has the Kansas aviation military exhibit with a time line of its involved in our wars. Along the walls are cases with an impressive collection of model airplanes to show the dozens of different planes that have been built here. The displays were put together by Women's Aeronautical Association of Wichita.
A very attractive early drone called the Pave Cricket is on display. Built in 1987 and cancelled in 1989, its job was to seek out enemy radars that control anti-aircraft artillery or surface to air missiles and defuse them. While impressive looking it evidently didn't do the job or else was too easy to shoot down.
Before I came I had not been aware of the large role that Wichita had played in the development of air travel and was impressed with the range of artifacts that are available to visitors who visit the museum.
A training cockpit