Monday, April 5, 2010

Wichita, Kansas: Air Captial of the World

One would think that a city known as Air Capital of the World would have a larger, more definitive air museum than the one Wichita calls the Kansas Aviation Museum. It has been open since 1991 and is working hard to improve, but it is small and struggling. Housed in the Administration building of what was the Wichita Municipal Airport, the museum sports spirit and history. The building itself is a gorgeous piece of work and the first piece of saving the Aviation Museum tackled. Built in the 1930’s, the construction was halted due to the Depression. Finally the interior was finished and the WPA helped lay runways. The building is decorated in Art Deco, popular at the time and a cast stone mural of Charles Lindbergh’s flight adorns the front of the building.

One small room is now devoted entirely to The Ninety-Nines, an International Organization of Women Pilots that was formed in 1929. It is still active today. Amelia Earhart was one of the first members, and a plate given to her by a grandmother is on display in this room. (Ironically, while I was standing in this tribute to women pilots, my sixteen- year-old niece was doing her first soloing at Iola, Kansas. A new Ninety-Nine member on the horizon!)

Lindbergh himself passed through Wichita, as did Amelia Earhart and other famous flyers since Wichita was the cross roads of American airways. Many movie stars spent time in the waiting areas of this building. Rumor has it Fred Astaire tapped danced here. The Wichita story becomes even more profound when WWII started as farm boys flooded the aircraft companies building planes as other Kansas towns were sites for flight training. During 1945, Wichita Municipal was one of the most active airports with a take off or landing every minute of the day. Over 1000 B29s were built at the Boeing Plant near the airport.

Railways were also important to Wichita and a small Rail Museum near the old depot has a few engines and cabooses one can climb on, ring bells, view from every angle. This Santa Fe steam engine is huge and one of the last class of passenger train engines. It was built in 1938. The train station itself is a beautiful building but up for sale at the present time.

Although we have visited bigger and more flamboyant museums, these two places on a sunny Easter weekend after a long winter made for a nice outing in Wichita.


BECKY said...

Oooohhh, I would've loved touring both places! Thanks for sharing, Claudia!

irishoma said...

Hi Claudia,
Wow! What great information. Thanks for posting it.

scott davidson said...

What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,
The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.