It doesn’t really make sense why Wichita, Kansas is the Air Capital of the World unless you’ve actually been there. And even then, if nobody points out the main reason why the Air Capital of the World is in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, you still might not get it. I’ll do my best to briefly explain the title, but Wichita’s aviation history is a lot more extensive and complicated than I would have thought.
The place where the Arkansas and Little Arkansas rivers meet has been a trading center and meeting place for nomadic people for over 11,000 years. The first permanent settlements were built by the Wichita tribe in 1873. Wichita remained a trading center, and became a rail-head for cattle drives from Texas. In 1914 and 1915 oil was discovered near Wichita, and the city became a major oil center.
Local entrepreneurs began using the money earned from oil to invest in the developing airplane industry. The Cessna Comet became the first aircraft to be built in Wichita in 1917. In 1920, the Swallow Airplane Company got its start. Lloyd Stearman and Walter Beech were both employees at the company, but they left in 1925 to join Clyde Cessna to form Travel Air. Stearman left in 1926 to start Stearman Aircraft, and Cessna left in 1927 to start Cessna. Beech left in 1932 to form Beechcraft Corp.
The title “Air Capital of the World” was accorded to Wichita in 1929 by the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce (then known as the American airplane manufacturer’s national trade association.) Many aircraft were manufactured in Wichita, including the Model 18 “Twin Beech,” the Boeing-Stearman Model 75, and eventually the Boeing B-29. World War II caused Wichita to become a major manufacturing center for bombers that were needed in the war effort. During the Cold War Wichita became the headquarters for the Boeing Military Airplane Company and home to McConnell Air Force Base. All Boeing B-47 Stratojets and many Boeing B-52 Stratofortresses were produced in Wichita at this time. Wichita’s mid-continental location made it ideal for allowing the maximum time to react to a missile attack by the Soviets, and for basing strategic assets.
The Lear Jet Corporation was established in Wichita in 1962 when the Swiss American Aviation Corporation opened a plant at Wichita’s airport. Bombardier Aerospace bought the Learjet Corporation in 1990. The Boeing Corporation announced its plans to shut down its Wichita facilities in 2012, after selling off part of the Wichita facility to form Spirit AeroSystems in 2005.
Wichita remains a major manufacturing center for the aircraft industry today. Beechcraft, Bombardier, Cessna, and Airbus all have major manufacturing centers in the city. And Spirit AeroSystems maintains its headquarters in Wichita.
(All historical information was gathered through the Wikipedia website.)