Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines!

Wichita has long been designated the “Air Capital of Kansas”. Photo courtesy Wichita Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

Walter and Olive Beech look over the Beechcraft factory production line in this photo taken circa 1940. Photo courtesy Kansas Aviation Museum.

Imblum Aeronautical Company. Photo courtesy Kansas Aviation Museum.

Women were recruited to build planes during WWII. This photo was taken at the Boeing plant. Photo courtesy Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum.

A Boeing 737 commercial aircraft. Photo courtesy Boeing Company.

Cessna’s method of welding set the standard for production efficiency in 1929. Photo courtesy Kansas Aviation Museum.

Owners of Cessna airplanes are a proud breed and use the internet to share photos of their aircraft. This Cessna 120 is owned by Rob Farland. Photo courtesy of

Jayhawk Aircraft Company. Photo courtesy Kansas Aviation Museum.

Hawker Beechcraft 4000 business jet. Photo courtesy

Men like Lloyd Stearman, Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna, E.M. Laird, J.M. Mollendick and George Weaver were responsible for starting the aircraft industry in the area. With Mollendick as the financial backer, Laird started the Swallow Airplane Company to build the Swallow that had been designed in Chicago. Interestingly, Beech, Stearman, and Weaver all worked for Laird and Mollendick until each went on to establish his own company. Stearman’s company later was purchased by The Boeing Company of Seattle, now Spirit AeroSystems. Today Spirit is Wichita’s largest employer with more than 20,000 employees.

The Beech (now Hawker Beechcraft) and Cessna companies continue today, as does Learjet (now Bombardier Aerospace Learjet), founded by William Lear in the mid 1960s. It was through the efforts of these aviation pioneers that Wichita earned the title of “Air Capital of the World.” With all companies still located in Wichita that title firmly remains today.

The count of Wichita-area employees for the following companies –

  • Cessna Aircraft Company = 12,017 (established 1927)
  • Spirit Aerosystems Inc = 10,500 (2005)
  • Hawker Beechcraft Corporation = 7,692 (1932)
  • Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Wichita = 3,000 (1940)
  • Bombardier Learjet = 2,540 (1962)

This is from the 12/05/2008 Wichita Business Journal, page 18.

The following information was compiled by Richard Harris and sent on January 14.  We are grateful for this addition to the information.


Throughout the city’s history, since 1920, Wichita (and its aircraft companies headquartered here) have produced approximately a quarter-million aircraft — more than any other city on earth. In 1929, the aircraft industry’s national association, the Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce (today’s Aerospace Industries Assn.), cited Wichita for producing the most aircraft of any American city, awarding it the title “Air Capital City” — a title which the city has claimed ever since, expanding it to “Air Capital of the World.”

During World War II, Wichita exploded, almost overnight, from 111,000 residents (in 1939) to 184,000 (by 1943), from the growth in its military aircraft production — drawing workers from around the state and adjoining states, too. Wichita’s aircraft industry employment has remained high almost ever since, as the industry has grown into Kansas’ second-largest, after agriculture.

Since 1920, Wichita aircraft-manufacturers have included:

Airbus (engineering facilities only)
Great Lakes
Seibel Helicopter
Spirit AeroSystems
Travel Air
…and more!

Wichita-built aircraft have included biplanes, sport planes, race planes, gliders, crop dusters, helicopters, seaplanes, training planes, personal aircraft, and business jets. Wichita is generally regarded, worldwide, as the “Detroit of the general aviation aircraft industry” — at one point in the 1960s building over half of the world’s light aircraft.

Wichita has also built hundreds of piston-engine and turboprop airliners, jet fighter-bombers, spy planes, and most of America’s largest bombers — including every B-52 still flying. Most of the U.S. military’s training airplanes are Wichita products.

Wichita-based manufacturers have also supplied major sections or systems to many other military and commercial aircraft (including the fuselages of Boeing’s most popular airliners), and to most of America’s manned spacecraft.


Near the end of 2008, approximately 40,000 people worked in Wichita’s aircraft manufacturing industry — approximately 1 out of every 6 aircraft-manufacturing workers in the United States — particularly at the city’s five main aircraft-manufacturing plants (approximate numbers based on media reports):

Cessna 12,000
Hawker Beechcraft 7,000
Bombardier Learjet 2,500
Spirit AeroSystems 10,000
Boeing IDS 2,500

Subcontractors, ranging from parts suppliers to machine shops, employed at least 4,000 more in Wichita, providing everything from ball bearings to aircraft engines.

Many of Wichita’s aviation workers are not city dwellers, but suburban, small-town and rural residents — including thousands of farmers who include bring their farm-mechanic skills to high-tech Wichita factory work as an adjunct to their farming income.


In 2007, one-fifth of the civil aircraft built in America came from Wichita.
Nearly a thousand aircraft (977 to be exact, mostly business jets), were manufactured in Wichita factories, including:

Cessna 467
Hawker Beechcraft 430
Bombardier Learjet 80

Wichita-headquartered Cessna also manufactured another 807 aircraft at other factories — ranging from its Independence, Kansas facility (employing 1,300) to smaller specialized aircraft factories in Oregon and China.


Spirit AeroSystems (formerly Boeing-Wichita’s commercial aircraft factory) built 75% of each Boeing 737 (Boeing’s most popular airliner), including the fuselage (main body) of the aircraft, as well major portions (including the front sections) of all other Boeing airliners.

Boeing IDS (Integrated Defense Systems) provides technical research & development projects, and major modification work, on various Boeing military aircraft.

Airbus North America’s engineering headquarters, too, is here, and recently completed the design of the wing — the most complex and sensitive airframe assembly — of the world’s largest airliner, the Airbus A380.

Bombardier Aerospace (world’s third-largest jetliner manufacturer, and parent company of Wichita’s Lear Jet), also has its global Flight Test Center here, to flight-test all of Bombardier’s Canadian-built business and commercial aircraft designs.


The Wichita area includes more than 20 airports — including Mid-Continent International Airport (served by a dozen airlines), and McConnnell Air Force Base — employing a combined workforce of hundreds (not counting McConnell AFB, which employs over 3,000 personnel). McConnnell AFB hosts one of only three KC-135 Stratotanker aerial supertanker wings in the Air Force, providing the Air Force’s global reach with air refueling and airlift missions worldwide.

The world’s leading pilot-training company, FlightSafety International, recently began expanding its massive Wichita facilities for training pilots and technicians to work with Cessna, Hawker-Beechcraft, and Bombardier/Lear Jet aircraft. In 2007, FlightSafety’s Wichita facilities employed 450 people, and trained 12,000 pilots and technicians from all over the world.

Wichita’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR) is a leading aerospace industry research facility. NIAR, on the campus of Wichita State University, shares facilities (including wind tunnels) with the university’s aerospace engineering department — one of the nation’s few schools offering both masters and doctoral programs in aerospace engineering.

Several local schools and colleges provide training in a wide range of aerospace-industry-related programs, including the Wichita Area Technical College, which provides FAA-certified training for licensed aircraft technicians.

The Kansas Aviation Museum hosts one of the nation’s largest collections of Boeing aircraft, as well as various other historic aircraft manufactured in Wichita and throughout Kansas.

SOURCES for above article

  • Aerospace Industries Assn.
  • General Aviation Manufacturers Assn.
  • Wichita Eagle & Beacon
  • Wichita Business Journal
  • Associated Press on (KAKE TV Ch.10) “Metropolitan Wichita: Past, Present & Future” by Prof. Glenn W. Miller & Prof. Jimmy Skaggs, (1978)
  • Wichita State Univ. & Regents Press of Kansas, Lawrence)

The achievements of the aviation industry in Wichita are long-standing, ongoing, and show the significant impact Wichita has had world wide.

Courtesy of The Kansas Sampler Foundation