By John Handley

WICHITA, Kan. — Wichita’s new $200 million airport terminal looks like a plane wing, which makes perfect sense because this largest city in Kansas boasts that it is the Air Capital of the World.

“More than 300,000 planes have been built in Wichita since the 1920s,” said Victor White, director of the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, which opened last month. Designed to celebrate Wichita’s long aviation heritage, the terminal makes you feel as if you are inside a plane’s wing. On the second floor, seven large panels delve into Wichita’s aviation history.

Showcased are the daredevil air show pilots of the early years. Other panels tell about the aviation pioneers (Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman) who put Wichita on the flight map.

Because of its midcountry location, Wichita became a refueling stop for coast-to-coast flights, including some piloted by Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Howard Hughes.

Another panel features World War II, when aircraft construction made Wichita’s airport one of the busiest in the country. With the addition of Learjet in 1962, Wichita builds a third of the world’s general aviation planes.

Capitalizing on its aviation fame, the Wichita area offers attractions for flight fans:

  • The Kansas Aviation Museum, at the former municipal airport near McConnell Air Force Base, displays 40 historic aircraft.
  • At Exploration Place, a hands-on science center, the aviation exhibit has a full-size Cessna with an open cockpit.
  • Kansas Cosmosphere & Space Center, in Hutchinson, Kan., chronicles the space race.

John Handley is a freelance reporter.

This article, written by John Handley, ran in the August 9 edition of the Chicago Tribune.