The global coronavirus pandemic shut the doors of businesses, nonprofit organizations and schools across the country. For Kansas’ aviation museums, the stay-at-home order hit at their busiest time of year – forcing them to cancel or change courses on educational programs, fundraising and summer camps.

Aviation Week and Wichita Aero Club brought together the leaders of each of Kansas’ major aviation museums to discuss the impact of the stay-at-home order as well as their plans for reopening.

aviation museums leaders participate in virtual discussion
(l-r) Jim Remar of the Kansas Cosmosphere, Adam Smith of Exploration Place, Josh Wells for Doc’s Friends and Tim Norton of the Kansas Aviation Museum (not pictured) participated in a virtual discussion led by Aviation Week’s Molly McMillan and Wichita Aero Club President Dave Franson.

Each museum closed its doors, cancelled programs and suffered an immediate halt to other sources of operational revenue in mid-March – just before Spring Break’s expected surge in visitors. Cosmosphere President and CEO Jim Remer said, instead, they “brought the museum to the people” through virtual demonstrations and tours.

Exploration Place also found a way to continue its mission during the shutdown. Displays and interactive exhibits transitioned from in-person to at-home, said Adam Smith, president. The museum produced 130 videos for STEM at Home and created Camp in a Box to make up for cancelled summer camps for elementary and middle school aged children.

For the Boeing B-29 Superfortress known as Doc, travel restrictions and cancelled air shows like EAA AirVenture effectively shut down the museum. “Right in the middle of the busy season,” said Josh Wells, communication and marketing. Until Doc can get out and fly again, Doc’s Friends are installing a new exhibit as well as implementing new measures to protect visitors and staff.

Like Doc, the Kansas Aviation Museums’ allure is physically being present, getting into the art deco building and seeing the artifacts on display. Something that doesn’t come across the same online, said Executive Director Tim Norton. The museum immediately started planning for the new normal after COVID-19.

Remer knows people may not be comfortable coming back to a facility. In fact, 15% of attendees polled during the virtual discussion responded that they wouldn’t venture out again until there was a vaccine.

Remer said the Cosmosphere is seeing roughly 40% of visitors after opening in comparison to pre-COVID years. Source: Aviation Week.

To generate revenue without visitors, Remer said the response will be more entrepreneurial. One approach is for museums like the Cosmosphere to fill gaps in the vacuum of virtual learning to help schools. Smith agreed that a broad adoption of distance education could benefit both visitors and the museums themselves.

Poll results also highlights adults’ desire to experience the aviation museums virtually. Source: Aviation Week.

The Cosmosphere opened May 22 with new policies in place to ensure the health and safety of employees and staff. Doc’s Hangar opened June 2. Volunteers and visitors must wear masks to prevent the spread of the disease, especially to protect Doc’s Friends at-risk volunteers.

Exploration Place plans to reopen to the public July 4, with a reconfigured lobby and interactive experiences. The Kansas Aviation Museum will announce its reopening plans online and via Facebook after July 4.

Wells has faith that things will return to normal. “Maybe 12 to 18 months from now,” he said. “People will look to us as organizations as to how we handled the COVID situation. We have to support each other.”

Show your support by visiting these establishments online and joining them in-person when you’re ready.

The Cosmoshere’s White Room is a special exhibit for Remer. Imagine the emotions in the room where the Apollo crew said their goodbyes and climbed into the aircraft. Visit:
Wells said his favorite experiences in Doc’s Hangar were when WWII veterans come to visit the aircraft. “When they put their hand up and touch it, it’s like they’re transformed.” Visit:
Nothing beats the interactive exhibit of Exploration Place’s Design, Build, Fly exhibit, said Smith. Visit:
A virtual experience can’t compare to the feeling visitors have when they walk into the Kansas Aviation Museum, awash in the history of the artifacts surrounding them, said Norton. Visit: