Amanda Reichenberger

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Wichita as Air Capital of the World
Amanda Reichenberger

December 8, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt appealed to Congress for an official declaration of war and with that declaration, the United States joined in the conflict of World War II. Kansas housed many aircraft companies: Travel Air, Boeing, Stearman Aircraft, Cessna, and Beech Aircraft (Hawker Beechcraft), so when wartime production induced a spike in the aeronautics industry, Kansas aviation companies willingly filled the gap and produced planes on an unprecedented level. World War II brought forth many dramatic changes but also enabled the growth of aviation and the final definition of Wichita as the Air Capital of the World.

In 1944 a take-off or landing occurred every 90 seconds at the Wichita Municipal Airport. Kansas became the center of the aviation machine. The Chamber of Commerce declared Wichita as the Air Capital of the World as early as 1928. General Henry Arnold, William Knudsen, and other U.S. air effort officials visited Wichita in August of 1940 to see if the Air Capital was all it claimed to be. These skeptics left Wichita satisfied and endorsed the Air Capital as the primary location of B-29 production.

The airline industry really began to boom when the Stearman Company, which became a division of the Boeing Company in 1938, delivered their first military airplanes, four U.S. Army YPT-9’s, in March 1931. These four airplanes would evolve into a long line of more than 8,600 primary trainers produced through 1943. When Stearman Aircraft became the Wichita division of The Boeing Airplane Company in 1941, it began to build the B-29 Superfortress. Boeing Wichita produced 1,664 B-29’s during World War II, providing the U.S. with major air force.

The B-29 Superfortress was a defining contribution to the war effort, made by the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kansas. From the first flight of a B-29 Superfortress on Sept. 21, 1942 until production of the plane ended in 1946, Boeing Wichita produced 2,766 of these giant bombers. Georgia produced only a fraction of Kansas’ output with 668 Superfortresses Nebraska contributed only 536 B-29s. Through its mass production of military bombers, Kansas supported many bombing raids

The United States used Kansas as a source for training due to its large span of sparsely populated land. Since only three army air bases existed in Kansas at the start of World War II, thirteen others were created. Each of these bases had to fully function within eighteen months of beginning construction. It took only twelve months to finish the Herington Army Airfield (depicted). In order to operate on the most efficient level, each base was built with only essential components. Kansas boosted the accessibility of training programs and facilities.

Beech Aircraft was truly a “busy bee” in accordance with the Walt Disney cartoon. During World War II, Beech Aircraft produced more than 7,400 aircraft for Allied Air Forces. Roughly 90 percent of all U.S. Army Air Corps bombardiers and navigators were trained in AT-7 and AT-11 aircraft during WWII. These crafts were derived from the Beechcraft Model 18s. Out of the 34,500 military aircraft built in Kansas during World War II, Beechcraft provided 7,400 or 21 percent.

Due to pressing wartime measures, Kansas aircraft companies used the most practical and efficient means possible; reallocation commonly occurred. Many WWII planes were simply modified civilian planes. The Culver Cadet, built by Culver Aircraft Corporation, was a drone version of a previously designed civilian plane. The aviation industry and the U.S. Air Force supply profited significantly from this shortcut. The aviation companies didn’t have to create new models and tools and the U.S. government didn’t have to wait as long for product.

The United States of America relied on Kansas for aviation support and that air support was widely achieved through the efforts made in Kansas. Thanks to the Air Capital, the U.S. gained thousands of planes and much needed air support throughout WWII. The war was fought with the combined efforts of every individual and every state, but Kansas had an advantage: it had wings.