Join our family of curious Kansas Citians

Discover unheard stories about Kansas City, every Thursday.

Thank you for subscribing!

Check your inbox, you should see something from us.

Sign Me Up

Excuse the interruption.

Like what you see? For more stories like this, sign up for our newsletter. It drops in your inbox every Thursday.

Thank you for subscribing!

Check your inbox, you should see something from us.

Sign Me Up
Hit enter to search or ESC to close

curiousKC | ‘Up, Up and Away’

How Airports Helped Build Kansas City

A view of Trans World Airlines' L-049A Constellation Navajo Skychief parked at Kansas City Downtown Municipal Airport.
Share this story

CuriousKC follower Brandy Taylor says that Kansas City’s Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport is in her blood. 

Her father owned an airplane detailing business, and as an adult she went on to work at the downtown airport as well.

“I grew up playing around airplanes,” Taylor said. 

Those close family ties are what prompted her to ask how the downtown airport helped build Kansas City. 

Before an expert weighs in, here’s a little history on Kansas City’s airports. 

A timeline of Kansas City’s airport history. (Catherine Hoffman)

Kansas City’s airports helped put the quickly urbanizing cowtown on the map as a travel hub. Charles Lindbergh himself noted the great potential of such a centrally located airport. 

In a time before airport security, companies could fly into the then Municipal Airport and be at their downtown offices in minutes. 

In 1931, aviation superpower Trans World Airlines moved its headquarters to Kansas City and became one of the city’s primary employers. This move also drew in hundreds of mechanics, engineers and hostesses for training. 

For the true local history zealots, it’s also worth noting that the downtown airport helped launch local restaurateur Joe Gilbert’s career. He worked his way from a concession stand to a bustling upscale airport restaurant rumored to be frequented by celebrities. 

Joe Gilbert’s airport restaurant, The Four Winds. (Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library)

It might be impossible to assign a dollar value to the economic impact of the downtown airport, but it’s undeniable that it helped make Kansas City more than just flyover country.

“The airport helped put the shot in Kansas City’s arm early on to get established to compete against other cities, and other regions,” said Joe McBride, senior manager of marketing and communications with the Kansas City Aviation Department. 

McBride also noted that while other industries have come and gone, aviation has remained a strong part of Kansas City’s economy since its arrival almost 100 years ago. 

If your interest has been piqued, check out the TWA Museum Wednesday through Saturday for more information. 

Catherine Hoffman covers community affairs and culture for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America. The work of our Report for America corps members is made possible, in part, through the generous support of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Like what you are reading?

Discover more unheard stories about Kansas City, every Thursday.

Thank you for subscribing!

Check your inbox, you should see something from us.

Enter Email
Your support lets our boots-on-the-ground journalists produce stories like this one. If you believe in local journalism, please donate today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.