June 25, 2023

Museum Review - Kansas Aviation Museum

My parents recently swung through town, and on their way in, I went out to meet them in Wichita, where the Fatherly One and I took a look at the local air museum, based in the 1930s terminal on the edge of what is now McConnell AFB.

Some of the outside air park
Type: Regional air museum
Location: Wichita, KS
Rating: 4.0/5, A nice museum focusing on the history of aviation in Wichita.
Price: $10 for normal adults


The museum focuses heavily on the history of aviation in Wichita, which is surprisingly rich for an otherwise rather obscure town in the middle of the Midwest. In the years immediately after WWI, three local engineers founded Travel Air, a pioneering manufacturer of general aviation aircraft. Their names were Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman, and although Travel Air itself would go under during the Great Depression, all three would set up companies in Wichita that survive in some form or another to this day.

One of those is visible as you come in from I-35. While the Stearman name is most closely associated with the legendary Model 75, which taught so many pilots to fly during WWII, the Stearman operation formed the foundations of Boeing's Wichita division, which in turn was sold off in 2005 to form Spirit Aerosystems, who continue to produce 737 fuselages today.1 The control tower gives a good view over their factory, and you can see the wrapped fuselages awaiting the train to Seattle. Cessna and Beechcraft are now divisions of Textron, and continue to build airplanes in Wichita for the general aviation and business markets.

Airplanes inside the old terminal

The inside collection is focused on the glory days of general aviation in the 20s and 30s, with a fantastic collection of beautifully restored planes from that era. (It turns out that if you're the only air museum in a town with lots of aviation workers, you can do good restorations.) My interest in aviation is focused on military and airlines, so this wasn't aimed at me, but it was still interesting to see a well-done collection from an early era of flight. The signage was excellent throughout, although not particularly coherent, and there were lots of smaller artifacts from various companies and people associated with Wichita, as well as exhibits on various aspects that didn't come with airplanes. The terminal itself was also pretty cool, a 30s art deco building that is being slowly restored. Interestingly, a number of the planes were clearly brought in disassembled and then put together in place. You can even go up into the control tower and watch operations at McConnell and Spirit Aerosystems.

An optical sight for the tail gunner on a B-52D

The outside collection is less good. Signage is nonexistent, and the planes, all of which I think have some connection to Wichita either through production or operation by the local Air National Guard, are clearly worse for the wear. But they're also shockingly accessible, with no barriers around any of them, and it's a great place to go if you want to stand in the bay of a B-52, discuss the Cooper vane on the 727s or marvel at how weird the Beechcraft Starship looks.

On the whole, we were at the museum for about two hours, and had a good time. It's not in the first rank of the world's air museums, but it's well-done and worth a visit if you find yourself in Wichita.

1 Boeing announced plans to buy Spirit back in mid-2024, in the wake of the 737 MAX fuselage door incident.


  1. June 25, 2023Goose of Doom said...

    Price seems to have a typo, unless this was for a special exhibit: website lists regular adult price as $10, with lots of different special deals mostly aimed (unsurprisingly) at families. A lot more manageable than $40, and would explain why there wasn't a note that the price wasn't high for a good but not first-rate museum!

  2. June 25, 2023Goose of Doom said...

    Was unusually high, I mean.

  3. June 25, 2023bean said...

    Yeah, that was a typo. Will fix.

  4. June 25, 2023The Fatherly One said...

    Typo: that survive in some for or another to this day. ...in some form or another...

    The Beechcraft Starship: Way ahead of it's time and unfortunately not feasible economically.

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