All ages invited to Design Build Fly at Exploration Place’s new aviation exhibit

On Dec. 2, Exploration Place is opening its all-new Design Build Fly exhibit, the most extensive exhibit renovation since the interactive science center opened 17 years ago in downtown Wichita. Visitors of all ages are going to be wowed by the collection of genuine aircraft parts and assemblies that they can explore up-close for a behind-the-scenes, hands-on look at how airplanes are designed, built and flown.

While many science centers across the country have exhibits dedicated to the world of aviation – Exploration Place opened with one called Exploring Flight and Design – this $2 million exhibit offers an experience only possible by tapping into aerospace experts and resources in Wichita, known as the Air Capital of the World for its innovation and manufacturing aptitude in the aviation industry.

While Wichita is home to many parts suppliers, machine shops and aircraft manufacturing plants, none offer public tours. Exploration Place teamed up with these local companies and leaders at the Wichita-based National Center For Aviation Training, National Institute for Aviation Research and Wichita State University’s College of Engineering to turn the city’s role as an aviation leader into an authentic experience open to everyone and interesting to all ages.

“This is going to be a lot more high-tech than many other exhibits we have at Exploration Place and we believe it’s going to skew a little bit older,” said Jan Luth, president of Exploration Place. “Young children will still enjoy it but there will be more for older kids and adults to enjoy as well.”

The 5,100-square-foot gallery has nearly 50 interactives offering industry insights and lessons on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Design interactives let you explore engineering by building a propeller, dreaming up a passenger seat and testing a landing gear concept. Build interactives allow you try out manufacturing processes, for example applying the paint and striping to an airplane’s exterior and testing your precision with a rivet gun on the wing of a private jet. Fly interactives include operating a cockpit as a production test pilot and flying an unmanned aerial vehicle. 

The younger crowd will have a blast at the kid-size foam airplane, seeing how vacuum toilets work by watching yellow scarves and brown puff balls they put into the toilet travel through clear tubing or signing up for one of 15 educational programs complementing the new exhibit and taking place in the family-friendly CreatorSpace.

The older crowd will enjoy climbing into the 10-foot section of a 737 fuselage that is now a 10-seat theater showing short films on engineering, flying, testing, advanced manufacturing, time-lapse of production, maintenance and restoration.

All ages will love the chance to sit in a full-size mock-up of a private jet’s cockpit and cabin once used at tradeshows. Take a selfie while posing as a celebrity sitting in the posh cabin or climb into the cockpit for a flying interactive experience.

Another layer of authenticity comes through the exhibit’s volunteers, who bring the exhibit to life by sharing their passion for aviation or years of working in the aviation industry. Presenting sponsor is Spirit AeroSystems, though all major aircraft manufacturers and many local aviation suppliers supported the exhibit through expertise, financial and in-kind donations. Exploration Place hired Ohio-based design firm Roto to create open-ended interactive experiences so you can have a new experience each time you visit the exhibit.

With the opening of Design Build Fly, every gallery in Exploration Place will either be new or have had a major renovation since the science center opened in 2000.

Design Build Fly opens to the public on Saturday, Dec. 2 and it is included with regular admission. Admission ranges from $6 to $9.50 and annual memberships start at $20.