There is a rich aviation history in the Heart of the Country, which is why Wichita is proud to celebrate National Aviation Day every year on August 19 – and throughout the year – as the “Air Capital of the World.”
Iconic aviation brands Beechcraft, Cessna, Learjet, and Stearman were born in Wichita; and modern-day Airbus Americas, Bombardier, Spirit AeroSystems, and Textron Aviation now design and manufacture aircraft and aircraft parts in this city. Aircraft manufacturing continues to be an economic driver in Wichita to this day.
Wichita first earned the title of Air Capital of the World in 1928, when the city’s 16 aircraft manufacturers rolled out 120 airplanes off the production lines each week. At that time, one out of every four U.S.-built airplanes came from Wichita. Today, our city can boast that we’ve had a hand in building hundreds of thousands of aircraft sizes and ancillary Wichita businesses have decades of history supporting the industry.
Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research, Innovation Campus, and Wichita Area Technical College’s National Center for Aviation Training turn students into designers, mechanics, machinists, and more, with specialized training from Wichita’s expert sources of aviation and aerospace technology. When you visit the city, you’re likely to meet someone who works in the aircraft industry or who loves aviation.
Defining a City: “ICT”
Pilots use airport codes as identifiers. “ICT” is Wichita’s three-letter designation by the International Air Transport Association, which also explains why you see it used so often in Wichita and on social media.
Arrivals and Departures
Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport was voted as Third Best Small Airport in USA Today’s national Reader’s Choice poll in 2020 and 2022. It serves six airlines – Alaska Airlines, Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest, and United with 14 nonstop destinations. Level 2 of the airport, a lounge, and gallery devoted to aviation history, is a great place to view elements highlighting the city’s impact on the industry.
One Wichita aviator who deserves credit is Erwin Bleckley, the city’s forgotten Medal of Honor hero. In 1918, his mission was to deliver supplies to the Lost Battalion while his DH-4 took on enemy fire. Still, in the planning stages, the Bleckley Airport Memorial Foundation is working to honor the brave pilot with a memorial at the airport to recognize his inspirational WWI efforts.
If arriving via general aviation at Colonel James Jabara Airport, give yourself a few minutes to tour their visitor’s lounge. The walls are covered with historic photos that pay homage to the war hero and Wichita High School North graduate for which the airport is named.
Journey Through History
The Kansas Aviation Museum takes aviation history to new heights. The museum is housed in what was the city’s first municipal airport. Today, the museum honors the legacy of air travel by showcasing Kansas aviation history with a focus on Wichita’s influence.
Museumgoers can expect to see a collection of restored aircraft and aviation-related artifacts. It proudly displays a 1920 Laird Swallow (the first production aircraft built in Wichita!), a 1945 Beech Bonanza B-35, a Cessna T-37B, and a Model 73 Stearman. The museum’s ramp is home to retired aircraft. When touring the museum, make time to enjoy 360-degree views of the city from the airport tower and listen to air traffic control. On Aug. 19, the museum will unveil its new permanent Women of Aviation exhibit on the third floor.
Continue your journey through history by making a visit to B-29 Doc Hangar, Education and Visitors Center to get an up-close look at one of only two airworthy Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft left in the world, Doc. The restored warbird attracts visitors to the permanent hangar who are eager to learn about the history of aviation engineering and design. Volunteers, referred to as Doc’s Friends, spent more than 450,000 volunteer hours restoring her to pristine condition. They are often on-site to answer questions. When not at home in the hangar, Doc and its crew take to the skies to make fly-in appearances at air shows. Make sure to check to see if Doc is in the hangar prior to your arrival.
To fully appreciate the advancement of Wichita’s aviation industry, you should visit the Mid-America All-Indian Museum, where you can learn about Chilocco Indian School which provided Native American students a trade, which often included aircraft mechanics and parts manufacturing. Many of these students went on to work for local aircraft companies.
National Aviation Day is also an opportunity to honor the Wichita State University football players, administrators, and supporters who lost their lives in a plane crash in 1970. History of Memorial 70 is a place of remembrance on the WSU campus and is open to visitors year-round.
Look to the Skies
Mark your calendar for Sept. 24-25 and make plans to attend the 2022 Frontiers in Flight: McConnell Air Force Base Open House & Air Show. Happening this fall at McConnell Air Force Base, it’s the base’s first air show in four years. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will headline the free event, along with a wide variety of civilian and military static aircraft, including the KC-135 Stratotanker and KC-46A Pegasus throughout the two-day show.
Other performers include the all-female Jump team Misty Blues Skydiving, Tom Larkin and his mini jet, a commemorative Air Force Red Tail P-51 from the World War II era, Shockwave – a truck with three jet engines that race planes at speeds upwards of 350 mph – and much more. Additionally, ramp displays will include numerous types of military ground transport vehicles and dozens of assorted vendors and agents from various institutions, organizations and associations.
Additionally, the Kansas Aviation Museum, located near McConnell Air Force Base, is opening up its ramp for those who want a front-row seat to the airstrip where the air show will be taking place. There will be food trucks, and bounce houses, and attendees will have access to the first floor of the museum. The cost is $20 per vehicle. Just bring your own lawn chairs and blankets for seating!
Cleared for Takeoff
Keep your eyes peeled for airplanes! Much of Wichita’s street art references the city’s love of flying. The mural located west of the Garvey Center displays a massive aircraft, Rosie the Riveter is the star of the Moler’s Camera mural, and “Fly In For Fun” at 1824 E. Douglas celebrates flight. Plan a self-guided mural tour. While downtown, stop by Naftzger Park to take your picture in front of an actual airplane wing on display.
Controls at Your Fingertips
If you’re in search of a hands-on learning experience, then Exploration Place is where you should land. The award-winning Design Build Fly exhibit takes visitors behind the scenes of Wichita’s aircraft plants. Run a rivet gun. Prove your paper airplane skills. Step inside a jet’s cockpit.
Descend to Dining
For aviation enthusiasts, there is no place better to enjoy a meal than Stearman Field Bar & Grill. The open-air patio draws a crowd excited to watch the traffic of the private airport while dining on menu times such as Kickin’ Pilot Potatoes or the Flyover Philly Cheesesteak. Sit back, relax and enjoy the happy hour drink specials as bi-planes and Cessnas take off and land.
It’s not every day that you get to taste a delicious meal and have a cocktail with aviation artwork as the backdrop unless you’re dining at 6S Steakhouse. For those looking to experience fine dining on the city’s east side, the Scotch & Sirloin impresses with its world-class interior featuring aviation references.
Shopping in Range
The Aviator’s Attic at Yingling Aviation is the best place to shop for pilot perfect gifts. Not only does the store carry clothing and home decor, but they sell everything a pilot needs to be flight-ready from instructional books to headsets. They also sell sunglasses, clothing, and home decor perfect for airplane lovers.
When you’re ready to call it a day and retreat to your hotel, even lodging in Wichita reflects the city’s love for aviation. Hotels throughout the city have nodded to the city’s legacy as the Air Capital of the World. One such example is the colorful artwork donning aircraft at the Homewood Suites by Hilton @ The Waterfront in east Wichita.
As Wichitans, we’re proud of our aviation history and the many places around the city that preserve it. It is without a doubt the best place in America to celebrate aviation and National Aviation Day.