New Book Documents Wichita's Aviation Contributions

 - September 6, 2019, 9:13 AM
Wichita: Where Aviation Took Wing documents the history of aviation in Wichita, including the rise of Beechcraft, Cessna and Learjet. (Photo: Greteman Group)

Branding agency Greteman Group has produced a new book, “Wichita: Where Aviation Took Wing,” that documents the Midwestern city’s history and contributions to aviation. The firm’s namesake and president, Sonia Greteman, told AIN the idea for the book arose from the agency’s four years of research developing displays at Wichita Eisenhower National Airport highlighting the city’s aviation history.

At its peak, the 173-page book notes, Wichita had 16 aircraft manufacturers, six aircraft engine factories, 11 airports, and a dozen flying schools. Today, the city is home to Textron Aviation (Beechcraft and Cessna), Bombardier Learjet, commercial aircraft supplier Spirit AeroSystems, and Airbus North America Engineering.

Starting with Albin Longren, the first Kansan to build and fly an airplane in the state, the book documents Kansas barnstormers and the earliest aircraft manufacturers in Wichita, including E.M. Laird Airplane Co., the first in the country to manufacture a production aircraft called the Swallow, a two-seat, open-cockpit biplane. In addition to giving significant treatment to Lloyd Stearman, Clyde Cessna, and Walter and Olive Ann Beech, the book highlights lesser-known people such as Jacob Moellendick, an Oklahoma oilman who spent his entire fortune bankrolling companies such as Laird, and is credited with bringing Beech and Stearman to Laird, who would later go on to form Travel Air Co. with Cessna, and then their own OEMs.

It also documents the transition of Stearman to Boeing and eventually Spirit, as well as the arrival of Bill Lear and Lear Jet.

Sonia Greteman, whose father was chief photographer for Boeing Wichita, explained it was a confluence of people, geography, and good fortune that spurred the development of Wichita and its moniker, the “Air Capital of the World.” 

“You could land anywhere, the southerly wind gusts helped achieve lift, we were in the center of the United States so…it was a good refueling stop, we had the farm guys who could fix anything and we had the oil money,” Greteman said. “So it was just like this perfect storm.”