NBAA Convention News

Witchita Air Capital Marketing Campaign Under Way

 - October 10, 2011, 10:00 AM

What’s the air capital of the world? Thirteen partners hope you’ll answer “Wichita,” at least after they finish their marketing campaign here at the NBAA show. The campaign claims the “air capital” title based on what its backers say is the city’s position as the number-one site for aviation manufacturing, skilled aviation workers and a robust aviation supply chain.

Among those behind the public relations effort are Kansas state officials; the state chamber of commerce; the city of Wichita; such key Wichita-area manufacturers as Cessna and Hawker Beechcraft; and a variety of other companies, politicians and organizations.

In conjunction with the campaign, the Wichita Aero Club has introduced an updated Air Capital logo, which it will feature at its booth (No. C12634). “South-central Kansas is known throughout the industry as one of only five global aviation industry clusters,” said David Franson, executive director of the Wichita Aero Club. “We’ve updated and reissued the new ‘Air Capital’ logo as a way to focus attention on Wichita’s great aviation heritage.”


It's interesting to note that Wichita's historic claim as "Air Capital City" -- contrary to popular assumption -- is neither the product of the city's own hubris and imagination, nor the product of any official national government declaration.
Instead, it resulted in 1929 from a calculation by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce -- the forerunner of today's Aerospace Industries Assn (AIA) -- which annually "awarded" the "Air Capital" title to the community producing the most aircraft.

In those days, the big producers were the states of New York (Curtiss Aircraft) and Ohio (WACO & various others, especially around the Wright's hometown: Dayton), and the cities of Detroit, Michigan, and Wichita, Kansas.

In 1928, the "Air Capital" community was Wichita, Kansas -- with the combined production of

Swallow (America's first successful commercial airplane company),

Travel Air (the nation's highest-volume civilian plane-producer of the late 1920s, rivaled only by Ohio's WACO, and formed originally by Clyde Cessna, Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech),



and a dozen other (small-scale) airplane manufacturers

-- totalling 927 planes produced in 1928 -- compared to the entire states of
New York (875)
Ohio (816).

The following year, Wichita's count was even higher, producing about a fifth or more of the nation's total aircraft output.

From Clyde Cessna's first Wichita plane in 1916, to the present day, the city has produced over a QUARTER-MILLION airplanes, including such names as

Boeing (main factory for the B-29, B-47 & B-52, including all B-52s still flying, plus major sections of all Boeing jetliners),
Laird/Swallow (America's 1st successful commercial airplanes),

Travel Air,



Beech (now Hawker-Beechcraft, formerly Raytheon Aircraft),

Culver (over a 1,000 compact wooden retractables, most as WWII manned target drones),

Mooney (which started here, twice),

Rawdon (pioneer cropduster maker),

Great Lakes (akro biplane, revived here),
Piaggio (in partnership with Lear for early P-180 Avanti fuselages),

and dozens of others

-- not to mention a half-dozen other noted planemakers in the area (Bede, Eagle 150B, etc.) nearby and state-wide (North American, Republic, Longren, American Eagle, Rearwin/Commonwealth, Funk, Helio, Powrachute, RANS, Alon).

Even Airbus has its North American engineering headquarters here, near downtown Wichita, where the most complex and critical section of the world's largest airliner was designed: the wing of the Airbus A380.

A bit pompous and presumptuous of the elitist Wichita Aero Club to presume -- on its own -- to "revise" Wichita's famous and beloved Air Capital City logo (into some bland, techno-style generic aviation logo, utterly devoid of any personality).

But an understandable temptation to push forward the dowdy old-fashioned logo to represent something more "high-tech," more in keeping with the city's obsessive focus on jet aircraft production (it makes most of its money producing the majority of the world's bizjets -- Cessna, Learjet and Hawker-Beech -- and jet airliner subassemblies for Boeing (particularly most of the Boeing 737, including whole fuselages).)

And surely Wichita is a contender for the Capital of Aviation Education -- with
- Wichita State Univ. -- one of the few universities that has a sophisticated wind-tunnel center (with medium-sized low-speed and miniature supersonic tunnels), granting accredited graduate degrees in nearly all engineering disciplines (including Ph.D.s in Aerospace Engineering) --

- the FAA-funded National Institute for Aviation Research (adjoining WSU's engineering complex), and

- the public A&P aircraft technicians' school dubbed "National Center for Aviation Training".

And here you'll find the world's leading complex of general-aviation training facilities: the FlightSafety International Training Centers for Cessna, Hawker-Beechcraft, and Learjet, which annually train over 1,000 pilots from around the world.

Even Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University has a campus here at McConnell Air Force Base -- itself historically often a training center for flight crews for a wide range of U.S. military aricraft.

Throw in over 100 aviation-related enterprises -- ranging from technically advanced machine shops, materials processors, and subassembly manufacturers
-- to aircraft engine and electronics suppliers, and aircraft instrument manufacturers
-- to aviation industry support services (aviation attorneys, ad agencies, insurors, financiers and organizations)
-- to an actual airline (Air Midwest, a feeder-airline subsidiary of Mesa Airlines, commonly rebranded under the names of major air carriers)
-- and you have one of the most intense collections of aviation industry in the world -- in one compact "Air Capital City."

Since the death of aircraft manufacturing in Southern California, there has been nothing to compare with it anywhere else in the world.

Only Seattle, Dallas and New York City can hold a candle to it in the depth and diversity of aviation industry concentrated there -- and none (anywhere on earth) have produced anywhere nearly as many aircraft: over a quarter-million in the last 100 years.

For more info:

A minor clarification about the foregoing message on Wichita's status as Air Capital City.

Boeing's Wichita complex -- at one time one of the largest factories of any kind on the continent -- was largely sold off to Onex Corp. as "Spirit Aerosystems" -- which continuned, basically unchanged, its role as Boeing's main airliner subassembly factory.

This allowed Boeing to squirm out from under its labor union contracts, and force wage cuts on its Wichita workforce, under the guise of the factory no longer being, officially, a "Boeing" factory (despite Boeing retaining a major ownership stake for years afterward, as the plant continued doing the same work for Boeing).

Boeing continued to retain a major aircraft-conversion facility and other military-oriented operations elsewhere at the complex, which flanks the west side of the runways of Wichita's McConnell Air Force Base, which it shares.


As a sampling of the people who've lived, studied and/or worked in the Air Capital (Wichita), consider:

Lt. Erwin Bleckley, U.S. Army Signal Corps. -- Wichita native; one of the first five combat airmen awarded the Medal of Honor (World War I), shot down while locating and aiding the legendary beseiged "Lost Battalion" in the Ardennes Forest.

Col. James Jabara, U.S. Air Force -- Wichita native; America's "1st Jet Ace," second-ranking U.S. ace of Korean War, and leading Air Force expert in early jet combat (USAF's top airmanship award is the "Jabara Award.")

Lloyd Stearman -- Kansas native; Chief Engineer of Swallow, co-founder of Travel Air, and founder of Stearman Aircraft, president of the revived Lockheed Aircraft (ca.1931; led development of Lockheed Electra), co-founder of Stearman-Hammond Aircraft, pioneer developer of cropdusting conversions of Stearman biplanes.

Clyde Cessna - Kansas-raised; first native aviator and plane-maker on the Great Plains, co-founder of Travel Air, and founder of Cessna Aircraft.

Walter Beech -- Tenn. native; Gen. Mgr. of Swallow, co-founder of Travel Air, and founder of Beech Aircraft; co-owner of Culver Aircraft.

Olive Ann Beech -- native Kansan; often called the "First Lady of Aviation" -- who led Beech Aircraft for longer than anyone, including her late husband.

Louise Thaden -- Arkansas native; race-winning, record-setting aviatrix of the 1920s and 1930s; piloted mostly Travel Air and Beech airplanes; won the Bendix Trophy (with Blanche Noyes) for the 1936 Transcontinental Air Race, in a Beech Model 17 "Staggerwing" biplane. Only pilot to simultaneously hold the women’s altitude, solo endurance, and speed records (1929).

Harold G. Dick -- Massachusetts native; one of the world's foremost experts (until his 1997 death) on the largest aircraft ever: the giant dirigibles of the 1920s and 1930s. A licensed balloon and dirigible pilot, as engineer for the Goodyear Zeppelin Corp., he helped develop the USS Macon; monitored development of the Hindenburg; held U.S. record for most dirigible ocean-crossing voyages (22, in Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg). Settled in Wichita, to become business & civic leader, and famed ballooning and dirigible historian.

Harold Krier - Ashland, Kansas native; U.S. Aerobatic Champion 1965 & 1967, legendary force in U.S. Aerobatics. "Perhaps more than any other individual," says his induction into the ICAS Air Show Hall of Fame, "Harold Krier was responsible for the revival of aerobatics in this country in the fifties and early sixties."

Clay Lacy -- Wichita native; former Chief Pilot of United Airlines, the man who connected Hollywood and Learjet, making bizjets the "jet set" lifestyle; senior editor of Professional Pilot magazine; famed aerial cinematographer and movie performer (major motion pictures, including "Top Gun"), and former Pres. of the Professional Race Pilots Assn.

Howard "Pug" Piper -- Pennsylvania native; former Chief Engineer for Piper Aircraft, defected to Beech Aircraft following a hostile corporate takeover of his family's company. Developed Beech Duchess light twin and Skipper trainer.

Jim Bede -- Ohio native; Aeronautical Engineering graduate of Wichita State Univ. Developed the BD-1 (later the American Yankee, which became the Grumman-American AA-1A, leading to the successful Grumman-American / Gulfstream American / American General / Tiger Aircraft line), the BD-4 (noted fast 4-place homebuilt design), the BD-5 (smallest homebuilt design -- igniting the "kitplane" movement; jet version was world's smallest jet), and other noted light aircraft.

Elbert "Burt" Rutan -- California native; Former chief engineer for Bede Aircraft in nearby Newton, later famous for his composite aircraft, and hired to develop the Beech Starship (America's first certified all-composite airplane, and first "glass-cockpit" light plane); later developed first private spacecraft, SpaceShip One, in Calif.

Richard "Dick" Rutan -- California native; brother of Burt Rutan, former leading U.S. fighter pilot in VietNam, later famous for first non-stop, unrefueled round-the-world flight in brother's "Voyager" (with co-pilot Jeanna Yeager), later hired as test pilot for the Beech Starship (America's first certified all-composite airplane).

Col. Paul Tibbetts -- Pilot who dropped the first atomic bomb; later assigned to Wichita's McConnell Air Force Base during the 1940s/1950s as commander, overseeing development of aerial refueling concept (resulting in invention of the "flying boom" that made inflight jet-refueling safe and practical) and the development and implementation of the nation's first strategic jet bomber, the Boeing B-47 (built across the runways at Boeing-Wichita).

Col. Robert "Bob" Cardenas -- Commander at McConnell Air Force Base during 1960s. Noted test pilot; flew the B-29 drop-plane pilot for early supersonic test aircraft flights (including the first, the Bell X-1, flown by Chuck Yeager); later first Hispanic general in the USAF, ultimately in charge of seleting the targets for the U.S. nucelar arsenal.

And that's just a sample...

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