Kansas City, MO

Historic Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport and its National Airline History Museum in Kansas City, Missouri

CJ Coombs

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Airline History Museum, Charles E. Wheeler Downtown Airport, Kansas City, Missouri.Photo by Charvex, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Hangar 9 at the historic Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport

Currently, the National Airline History Museum in Kansas City is closed. Hanger 9 is the designated area for the private museum where some restored propeller-driven planes rested. It's been over a decade since I was there during an air show and seeing the vintage planes up close was an experience especially since I'm a daughter of an Air Force veteran.

It was the summer of 1985. At Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base in south Kansas City, Larry Brown, a corporate pilot, and Dick McMahon, retired Air Force, got to talking about planes. Brown reached for a picture of a military version of a Constellation. Admiring its triple-tail design, the two men wondered if they could find one, fix it up and fly it around to air shows. (Source.)

My father retired from Richards-Gebaur in the late 1960s. The museum founded by Larry A. Brown and Dick McMahon in 1986 reminds me of growing up in the military. It's a wonderful educational opportunity for young children and anyone else who loves planes. That is if the non-profit company and its board members didn't have to experience all its financial worries and drama and theft. And, of course, if the museum were open.

Others who had a passion for aviation including former TWA employees joined in the effort to help with the museum's growth. The Downtown Airport, too, added to the historic appeal.

A restored Lockheed L-1049 Constellation was flown from Arizona to the Downtown Airport. This plane was also seen in the film, The Aviator.

In February, 2011, The Pitch published, John Travolta helped Kansas City’s Airline History Museum take off – but a con man almost took it down which is another story in itself involving a former board member and greed induced questionable behavior.

There have been three lawsuits associated with the museum or board member. The latest one was filed in 2019 by the museum.

In September 2019, when a new lease was signed between the city and Signature Flight Support with the management of the Downtown Airport, this seems to have caused more problems.

The amendment deleted all financial benefits for the National Airline History Museum, essentially meaning the city would start charging Signature rent for the museum’s space beginning in December 2019. Signature notified the museum that it would need to pay $3,256 a month in rent. (Source.)

Of course, with the pandemic striking in 2020, that would have really affected the number of visitors to visit the museum if it were open then. The museum wasn't happy with the change in the sublease. It did not pay rent from December 2019 through December 2020. The museum filed a lawsuit against Signature, indicating,

the rent was being charged improperly and accusing Signature of interfering with the museum’s operations, specifically not allowing the museum to host a traveling display of a DC-8 aircraft. (Source.)

The Flatland reported that the museum was working hard to prevent eviction from occurring by the private operator of the facility.

As has been in the media, Signature Flight Support has the master lease on several hangars with the city. The museum filed a lawsuit with Clay County Circuit accompanied by its online petition, which now has over 7,400 signers and supporters.

They (Signature) have multiple empty hangars,” said John Roper, chairman of the Airline Museum board. “It’s not like the airport is full and they need more space. (Source.)

25th anniversary

In January 2011, the museum celebrated its 25th year of operating the Airline History Museum. A reorganization plan was implemented to update branding, and create a new membership structure, logo, website, and exhibit structure.

The below tweet is the last entry on the museum's Twitter page. If you want to sign the petition, click here.

In March 2011, the museum was renamed the National Airline History Museum. This would open potential opportunities to receive Federal grants. The museum also teamed up with the Roasterie Coffee Shop and its coffee brand is the museum's official coffee.

If the museum were still open, 2022 would have been its 36th year.

According to the museum's website, which looks a little haunting since it appears to have been deserted, it doesn't include its updated name and states it's closed for repair due to wind damage. There are also other websites that are promoting visiting the museum that apparently needs updating as well since the museum is shut down.

No aviation fan would want to see an eviction of the collection of classic airplanes from the space that used to be headquarters for TWA Airlines--another piece of city history. Hopefully, the problems can get ironed out, and life can be pumped back into the museum.

Thank you for reading.

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30 years of legal secretarial experience, and a BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. Thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into Air Force service life, my life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, truth, non-fiction, reading, history, and travel.

Kansas City, MO
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