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Downtown Airport Marks 90 Years in Clay County

September 2017

Kansas City's "other" airport, the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport, is the region's "corporate jet hub" in part because of it's proximity to Downtown Kansas City. Located in Clay County, the facility just celebrated its 90th birthday.

The second largest airport in metro Kansas City and the largest in Clay County celebrated its 90th birthday last month.

The Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport may lack some of the attention of its younger brother, Kansas City International Airport, but the commemoration Aug. 17 marked a notable stretch of regional history and a continuing transportation nexus in Clay County.

The airport was dedicated in 1927 by no less than Charles Lindbergh, who only months earlier completed the first aerial crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

Today, Downtown Airport sees as many as 700 aircraft take off or land each day. These range from small, single-engine propeller craft to sleek corporate jets. Partly because it is just across the Missouri River from Downtown Kansas City and the area’s growing businesses, the airport now attracts a large number of corporate, charter and recreational flyers.

Fixed-base operator services at the airport support nearly 300 based aircraft, as well as itinerant and charter aircraft, offering fuel, full maintenance, aircraft rentals, sales and flight training. The Kansas City Aviation Department, which owns and operates the airport, built a general aviation complex with hangars, a terminal, tie downs and self-fuel avgas. The global advertising, marketing and interactive firm VML is housed in the former terminal building. Several other aviation tenants are housed at the airport.

That’s a far cry from the airport’s beginnings. The first passenger terminal was built in 1928. Because of its central location, MKC, as it was known, became home to more passenger airlines than any other airport in the nation. Lindbergh had more impact when, as a member of a company that eventually formed part of Trans World Airlines (TWA), he helped select MKC for the corporate headquarters. Kansas City became a national aviation leader almost overnight.

That continued after World War II. Eventual billionaire Howard Hughes, who was the principal shareholder in TWA from 1939 to 1960, was a frequent visitor to Kansas City Municipal Airport. Hughes was instrumental in persuading Lockheed to construct the four-engine Constellation or "Connie" and the later Super Constellation. A restored 1958 Connie is on display with other historic aircraft at the National Airline History Museum at Downtown Airport. Other historic aircraft on the field are owned by TriStar Experience, which has historic, flyable jet aircraft that it uses for educational and experiential programs to inspire students into STEM fields of study, as well as to pursue aviation and aerospace related careers.

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