WICHITA, KAN. – Aircraft on static display outside the Kansas Aviation Museum sustained minor damage when a Tornado came through April 14, 2012, but the roof on the old terminal building’s tower sustain major damage. Most of the aircraft outside the building weather vaned almost 180 degrees, including a Boeing KC135 transport, but a Cessna O-2B was flipped on its back, and the B-47 display was damaged. Both the Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems plants sustained major damage, as did McConnell Air Force Base, which relocated 16 aerial refueling tankers to Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota prior to the storm.
The Kansas Aviation Museum is located at the site of the original Wichita Municipal Airport. Museum officials commented that they look at the storm as an opportunity to get the community to support the construction of more buildings to house its aircraft.
A preliminary assessment by city and county officials estimated the overall loss in the Wichita area to be as much as $283 million. Even with 100 trailer homes damaged in the city, there were no immediate reports of any injuries.
The importance of the Kansas Aviation Museum building to the glory days of Kansas aviation cannot be overstated. The old terminal building was completed in 1935, built with money and manpower from the New Deal and the Works Progress Administration. The control tower was added in 1941 when controllers were still using light guns to signal planes. Mary VanScyoc, a museum volunteer, was the nation’s first female air traffic control operator, working in the tower beginning in 1944. She was on duty when the airport’s main hangar, used as an administration building while construction continued on the terminal, burned down in 1945. She spotted the burning hangar during her shift, closed down the airport and stopped all air traffic coming in or out. You can see the entire city from the tower, including McConnell Air Force Base and the Boeing plant.
In its heyday, Wichita Municipal Airport (KICT) was a major mid-continent stopover for the airlines. During the 1940s, it was one of the busiest airports in the nation with a take-off or landing occurring every 90 seconds.
Wichita also was a major destination for nearly every aviation luminary of the times. Charles Lindbergh and Kansas’ own Amelia Earhart and many other celebrities crossed the ramp. The story is even told that Fred Astaire once entertained fellow passengers by dancing in the atrium while awaiting a flight.
World War II brought an explosion in aviation manufacturing in Wichita, including major efforts by Boeing to build bombers and other aircraft for the war effort. After the war, Boeing’s central presence in U.S. defense strategies meant continued economic benefits for Wichita, but also led to the decision to relocate the city’s airport. Construction began on what is the current Mid-Continent Airport and by 1954, all non-military traffic including commercial airline traffic, moved to Mid-Continent.
The USAF and the Kansas Air National Guard used the former Wichita Municipal Airport administration building for the next 30 years. During much of that time, it served as Building One of McConnell Air Force Base. By 1984, the building was no longer needed. The doors were locked and the building abandoned. At the same time, the Wichita Aeronautical Historical Association was searching for a facility to open a museum. The museum opened on April 19, 1991, to showcase Kansas aviation history.