U.S. Centennial of Flight, A Kansas Perspective, 2003

By Frank Joseph Rowe
Based In Part Upon the Book:

Borne On The South Wind, A Century Of Kansas Aviation

By Frank Joseph Rowe & Craig Miner

Copyright 1994, The Wichita Eagle & Beacon Publishing Company

Wichita, Kansas

When the Wright Brothers achieved their much celebrated powered flight on December 17, 1903, not only was it the realization of one of mankind’s most sought after universal dreams, but it would also launch a continually expanding global industry whose roots are significantly imbedded in the State of Kansas. Much akin to the inspired vision and Mid -Western inventiveness of Wilbur and Orville Wright, a successive group of Kansas aviation entrepreneurs with names like Clyde Cessna, Walter and Beech, Lloyd Stearman, Bill Lear and others have made the idea of powered flight available to the world on a reasonably attainable basis. A critical mass of General Aviation as well as Commercial Aviation giants continue to operate out of the wind-swept planes of Kansas. Industries such as Boeing, Airbus Industries, Cessna Aircraft, Bombardier Learjet, Raytheon Aircraft and others are based out of the industry’s “ground-zero” : Wichita Kansas.

For nearly 100 years, the men and women of Kansas have been quietly building the nation’s premier regional center for development and production of aircraft. Over the years, the state has been host to about eighty companies that have manufactured well over 250,000 planes. Within Kansas’ 50 million acres have been produced about 60 percent of the world’s general aviation aircraft.

While powered flight has evolved and become technically sophisticated throughout the decades, one can still occasionally find traces of the ancestral lineage back to the Wright’s original approach. The Beech Model 2000A “Starship” could in some ways be viewed as paying distant tribute to the same twin pusher prop, forward canard configuration as the Wright’s Flyer (although with composites and advanced systems that could not possibly have been realized back at the early part of the 1900’s). Coincidentally, Randy Schlitter of RANS Corporation (HAYS, KS) developed his current aircraft manufacturing company after developing a line of bicycles. Schlitter’s aircraft range from kits up to the S-11 Pursuit “Blended-wing / lifting body” composite aircraft.

With a history that roughly predates the Wright brothers earliest entry into aeronautical invention (1899), Kansas aviation history has spanned the gamut from unworkable bird-like contraptions, kites, balloons, airships, classic biplanes, gliders, racing aircraft, helicopters, bombers, target drones, single engine, piston twins, turboprops, corporate business jets, commercial jetliners as well as lately contributing development of the Boeing 747 Airborne Laser aircraft. In a business that at times is as mercurial as the Kansas wind, Kansas continues to pay lasting and significant tribute to the legacy that was first pioneered by the Wright brothers 100 years ago.