Kansas goes Plane Crazy,
In the course of one week, Sept. 7-19, Wichita, Kansas -- "the Air Capital" of aircraft manufacturing -- plans to forever banish its lack of robust civilian airshows, with a week-long aviation spectacle. Spanning the whole history of flight, it includes balloons, antique planes, warbirds, world-class aerobatics (including the Thunderbirds) and astronauts. And it's mostly FREE!
It starts with the arrival of dozens of rare flying antiques, on the century's first National Air Tour, Friday, September 12th, re-enacting the 1920's Ford Air Tours which promoted aviation around the U.S. Wichita was one of the main stops on the original tour, and is again. The antique squadron departs northeast Wichita's Jabara Airport after a brief exhibition the morning of Saturday, the 13th. Rare WACO, Travel Air, Buhl, New Standard and other biplanes, including an early Stearman, arrive with a flock monoplanes -- Ryan (yes, one of the close relatives of the Spirit of St.Louis), Fairchild, Fokker and others -- and perhaps the rarest gathering, in half a century, of towering tri-motors by Ford, Stinson and Bushmaster.
Later that week, there will be public presentations by NASA astronauts & cosmonauts and a NASA uplink to the International Space Station. Friday night there's a night airshow complete with airplanes, huge fireworks (by world champion fireworks pros) and a spectacular balloon-light.
Saturday and Sunday, there's the USAF Thunderbirds, Red Bull's "MiG Magic" jet team, world-champion stunt pilot Patty Wagstaff, Jimmy Franklin's mind-boggling, jet-powered WACO biplane (you have to see it to believe it, I'm not kidding you!), the Pepsi Team, Bill Leff's thundering T-6, hot air balloons, warbirds shows and dozens of extraordinary civilian and combat aircraft (including Boeing-Wichita's B-29 Superfortress restoration) on display or in the air, and more.
A photo exhibit by world-famed aviation photographer Paul Bowen (you'll probably recognize some of his photos, or at least his style) Thursday, an auction and dance Saturday night, at Jabara Airport, educational seminars, kids events, and more make this a real "blow-out" air-party
If you want to make a week of it, and you're coming from the west, stop by the Mid-America Air Museum -- one of the world's largest and most spectacular private aircraft collections -- at Liberal's Airport. If from the Northeast, consider a visit to Topeka's Combat Air Museum, at Forbes Field. If from the Northwest, add a stop at the Kansas Cosmosphere -- the world's largest collection of actual spacecraft -- American and Russian -- space treasures, and a fabulous IMAX theatre and planetarium. An SR-71 Blackbird is on display, there too. It's all just a short rental-car drive from the Hutchinson airport, about 50 miles northwest of Wichita.
Here's a chance to mingle with the folks who probably built one of the planes you've flown -- from Swallow, Travel Air, and Stearman biplanes to early Culvers and Mooneys, to Bonanzas and King Airs, to Skyhawks and Citations, to Learjets, to Boeing bombers and jetliners. Bombardier's Flight Test Center is here, along with an engineering shop for Airbus. With over a quarter-million planes built here, by dozens of companies, it's no wonder Wichita claims to be "Air Capital of the World." The Kansas Aviation Museum, next to McConnell Air Force Base (where the show is held) will be open during the show, displaying a modest collection of Kansas flying machines.
Don't overlook downtown's Exploration Place -- a fabulous, gigantic see-and-touch science museum, with an IMAX theatre and a spectacular aviation hall for the kids (and grown-ups), complete with hands-on exhibits and flight simulators. Not cheap, but oh, so cool. For a taste of the Old West, visit Wichita's authentic "Cow Town" -- an authentic recreation of early Wichita, just across the river from downtown, where blacksmiths and saloonkeepers work between gunfights. For something completely different, the new Museum of World Treasures, in "Old Town," just east of downtown, is one of the world's most extraordinary private collections of rare, ancient discoveries -- from dinosaur skeletons, to archaelogical treasures (from every major civilization), to war trophies. Here, too, see handwritten notes from every president, and many more historic big-shots.
Wichita's Old Town area is also more or less the center of the town's upscale night-life (dancing, dining, bars of every kind). Movie theaters and most restaurants, though, are out on the east and west fringes of town, in the suburban shopping districts along Kellogg (U.S. Highway 54, through town, Rock Road to the east, Ridge, Tyler and Maize to the west, and 21st street North, west of Tyler. Closer to the air base are good eateries around Rock Road and Harry, just northeast of the base.
The air festival and show is mostly held at McConnell Air Force Base, on the southeast edge of town. Don't even think of trying to land there, unless you want to get arrested. Check with your FSS for specific NOTAMS about the event. Plan on landing northeast of town at Jabara Airport (serviced and managed by MidWest Corporate Aviation) -- or southwest of town, at Wichita Mid-Continent International Airport (serviced by Yingling Cessna and Raytheon Aircraft Services, first-class all-purpose FBO's); there's an FSS in walking distance. A cheaper field is Augusta Municipal, just 10 minutes east of Wichita's main motel district. If you have to airline your way here, 17 airlines service Mid-Continent Airport, with non-stops from many cities, as far away as Las Vegas, Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, and Atlanta. The city has negotiated for budget airline fares.
Stay at one of the several motels near either airport, or at one of the few elegant downtown hotels. Unless you come by car, you'll need to rent one. Cabs here are a joke, and public transit even worse. Wichita events are rarely world-class, but this time it's completely over-the-top! Plan for all the time you can spare -- there's an amazing amount to do here (nope, they didn't pay me to say that, and yep, after living all over the U.S., I've settled back here in the Air Capital!) For more information, contact the Wichita Aviation Festival office, the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, or the Wichita Convention & Visitor's Bureau, downtown. ~ R.Harris, In Flight USA
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