For most of the last century, Wichita produced more aircraft than any other city in the world. In 1925, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, and Lloyd Stearman established the Travel Air Manufacturing Co. in Wichita, before independently founding Cessna Aircraft Co. and Stearman Aircraft Corp. in 1927, and the Beech Aircraft Co. in 1932. Al Mooney formed the Mooney Aircraft Corp., and Bill Lear developed the Learjet, both in Wichita. For years, Boeing Co. was the largest private employer in Kansas, with as many as 40,000 employees. During World War II, Boeing’s Wichita factory produced thousands of aircraft for the war effort, including 1,644 B–29 Superfortress bombers.
You can see Doc, one of only two B–29s that have been restored to flying condition, at Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport. Visitors can explore the bomber, including the cockpit, and sometimes see it fly.
For more history of airplane manufacturing, visit the Kansas Aviation Museum, housed in the 1930s art deco terminal of the former municipal airport, now on the west side of McConnell Air Force Base. There are specific Beech and Cessna aircraft exhibits inside and numerous Boeing, Beechcraft, Lear, and Cessna aircraft displayed outside.
Nonaviation sites to visit include the first Pizza Hut, which was moved onto Wichita State University’s campus and is open as the Original Pizza Hut Museum. Highbrow types might be interested to tour the Henry J. Allen House, a prairie-style home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Beech Factory Airport and Cessna Aircraft Field
The Beech Factory Airport is 6 miles east of downtown Wichita, and although it’s a public-use airport, there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do once you land. It’s on the property of Textron Aviation—owner of Cessna and Beechcraft—and there’s no FBO or fuel for transient aircraft. Perhaps, make a landing—just to say you did—but don’t expect to stay unless you have business there. The same goes for the nearby Cessna Aircraft Field, adjacent to McConnell Air Force Base.
Lloyd Stearman Field
A more welcoming airfield named for an American aircraft designer and builder is Lloyd Stearman Field, 14 miles northeast of Wichita. Also known as Benton Airpark, it’s primarily an airpark community, but it offers a café, fuel, and repair services to visitors. It’s not very convenient for visiting Wichita, with no car rental offices nearby, but it would make a pleasant destination for breakfast or lunch. For cross-country pilots, the Wichita area is almost dead center of the nation, on a line between New York and Los Angeles; Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Francisco; or Texas and Minnesota. So, drop in on Stearman field, fuel up, and dine before heading onward.
Kingman/Clyde Cessna Field
Cessna owners could fly west to visit Kingman/Clyde Cessna Field in Kingman, Kansas, 44 miles west of Wichita. It’s named for Clyde Cessna, the founder of Cessna Aircraft Corp., who grew up on a farm in Rago, 15 miles south of Kingman. In 1955, Cessna conducted the flight and certification testing for a new airplane, the Cessna 172, at this field. The airport has two runways and fuel, but no café. The FBO, Prairie Wind Aviation, has a courtesy car available, so you can go into Kingman (2 miles) for lunch. They might let you borrow it for the 15-mile drive to Greenwood Cemetery to pay your respects at Cessna’s final landing site.