Learn about the history of aviation in the Air Capital the Kansas Aviation Museum. Touch and feel real historical aircraft and gain an appreciation for the technology of the airplane industry as it has evolved over time.
Housed in the original Wichita Airport, the Kansas Aviation Museum keeps the history of the Air Capital alive. The land where the museum now sits was barren when the first air show was held there in 1924. Then-city manager L.W. Clapp purchased the land to build an administration building, but construction soon stalled. After a few years, the New Deal and Works Progress Administration provided the manpower to finish the construction and the building was dedicated in 1935.
An air traffic control tower was added six years later, and Mary VanScyoc became the first female air traffic control operator in the U.S. here. Today, visitors can take in a gorgeous view of the city from that tower.
During the 1940s, Wichita Municipal-ICT Airport was one of the busiest in the nation, used as a major layover site for airlines. At its peak, a takeoff or landing of commercial flights happened every 90 seconds.
At the time of World War II, the War Department’s Army Procurement Division used the airport and supervised the work on the Kaydet trainer being built next door by the Stearman Company. That aircraft and other military projects being developed across the street helped make the decision to move the airport to its current location. The Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport now sits on the west side of town.
In 1951, the United States Air Force set up base and took over the Wichita Municipal-ICT Airport facility to train pilots on B-47 bombers. The military used the building for 30 years until it became vacant in 1984. It was not reopened again until 1991 when the Kansas Aviation Museum was established.
Visitors can explore the building’s art-deco details inside and out. Although the museum entrance is on the north side of the building, be sure to walk to the west side to see architectural details on the front of the building. There is a bas-relief mural of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
Inside, you can stand in the same atrium where museum officials say Fred Astaire once danced while awaiting a flight or climb up to the control tower.
Throughout the museum, visitors experience authentic Kansas aviation history with historical aircraft, engines, photos and more documenting the timeline of the industry.
There are exhibits on industry giants, including Beechcraft, Boeing and Cessna, as well as areas showcasing military aircraft and the Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame. All ages will enjoy the learning center with simulators and an area with as many as five aircraft recently restored by museum volunteers. The tower is open to tour, and on a clear day you can see the downtown skyline as well as views of McConnell Air Force Base and the museum’s own ramp.
The museum’s aircraft collection includes civil and military aircraft, from pistons to turboprops to jets, in all sizes. The largest plane on display is the 156-foot-long Boeing B-52D bomber with a wingspan of 185 feet. A Boeing 727, painted in a FedEx livery, and a Boeing KC-135E refueling tanker also are fan favorites. Visitors can see a Learjet Model 23 owned by Bill Lear for his personal travel and the one-of-a-kind Beech Model 73 Jet Mentor, a prototype built to compete for a military trainer contract that was won by the Cessna T-37 Tweet, also on display.
Among other historic airplanes on display: