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Wichita Aviation Historic Timeline!

March 1, 2002 by Carl Chance
This article originally appeared in the The Wichita Eagle.

The following timeline originally appeared in the Wichita Eagle Newspaper in the late 1990’s. This timeline covers significant aviation developments in the Air Capital, from the year 1900 through 1994.

1900 — Three years before the Wright Brothers successful takeoff at Kitty Hawk, N.C., Carl Dryden Browne promotes a commercial airplane factory in Freedom, Kan. He builds a factory and a model, but never is able to perfect his aircraft. The factory closes in 1902.

1909 — William Purvis and Charles Wilson, two railroad mechanics in Goodland, Kansas, quit their jobs to work on a rotary-winged aircraft. The venture fails, but their design is believed to be the first rotary-winged aircraft ever patented, a predecessor to the helicopter.

1911 — Clyde Cessna builds a plane near Rago, Kansas and puts on a public flight demonstration at the Salt Plains near Enid, Oklahoma.

1916 — Cessna moves his airplane manufacturing business from his farm in Kingman County to an auto factory in north Wichita.

1919 — Two (short-lived) aircraft factories are formed — Wichita Aeroplane Service Company and the Wichita Aircraft Company.

1919 — J. M. Moellendick, who had done well in the El Dorado oil boom, invests in the Wichita Aircraft Company. Upset with the management, he persuades William Burke from Okmulgee, Okla., to take over. Burke flies to Chicago, meets with E.M. “Matty” Laird, and proposes the three form a company in Wichita to build planes.

1920 — E.M. Laird Airplane Company is formed in Wichita. The staff includes Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman.

1921 — State census shows 21 aircraft manufacturers in the state.

1925 — Travel Air is formed by Cessna, Beech and Stearman. Two years later, Cessna and Beech split after a disagreement over whether to build monoplanes or biplanes.

1926 — Stearman forms his own company in California and a year later moves it to Wichita, Kansas.

1927 — Clyde Cessna forms Cessna Aircraft Company. Wichita begins promoting itself as “The Air Capital of the U.S.”

1929 — Beech sells Travel Air to Curtiss Wright. United Aircraft and Transportation, forerunner of the Boeing Company, buys Stearman.

1932 — Walter Beech forms Beech Aircraft Company, based on East Central in Wichita. The first Beechcraft, the classic Model 17R Staggerwing, made its initial flight November 4, 1932.

1938 — The Cessna Airmaster goes into production and is heralded as the “world’s most efficient airplane.”

1941 to 1945 — Aircraft companies enjoy a boom because of World War II. More than 25,000 aircraft workers are employed in Kansas plants, most of them in Wichita. Boeing built B-29 bombers, Beech built 7,415 planes for the military; Cessna built 5,359 aircraft plus 750 gliders.

1944 — Boeing Wichita is the first manufacturing facility in the United States to use mass transportation for workers. Buses take people from downtown Wichita, Arkansas City, Winfield, Salina, Ponca City and Newkirk to Boeing and back.

1945 — Culver Aircraft Corp. of Wichita operates in a complete blanket of secrecy for the duration of World War II. It built radio-controlled drones.

1945 — As the war ends, aircraft factories lay off workers — 16,000 people at Boeing receive pink slips in one day.

1945 — Beech’s Model 35 Bonanza twice holds the world’s non-stop distance record for light planes.

1948 — Boeing Wichita conducts initial aerial refueling tests with B-29’s.

1951 — The first jet bomber, Boeing’s B-47, rolls off the production line in Wichita.

1953 — Boeing begins producing the giant B-52 bomber.

1956 — Cessna’s Model 172 sets world sales records. More than 14,000 are built in 13 years.

1962 — Bill Lear moves from Switzerland to Wichita to design, build and market a business jet. The first Learjet flight is Oct. 7, 1963.

1969 — First flight of Cessna’s prototype business jet, later named the Citation.

1979 — Beech Aircraft is acquired by the Raytheon Company.

1982 — Wichita planemakers lay off workers due to a drastic decline in sales. Beech lays off 2,500 people and Cessna 3,045 between mid-1981 and the spring of 1982.

1983 — Beech announces plans for a revolutionary aircraft, the all-composite Starship. A decade later, production is stopped with only about 50 Starships delivered.

1984 — Learjet lays off 1,000 people, a third of its Wichita work force.

1986 — Cessna halts production of its world-famous light planes due to declining sales and soaring product liability costs. Nearly 35,000 model 172’s had been built.

1986 — General Dynamics Corp. buys out Cessna Aircraft Company.

1990 – Bombardier Inc. purchases Learjet Inc. from Integrated Resources, the last in a line of owners that had mismanaged the first business jet maker.

1992 — Textron Corp. acquires Cessna from General Dynamics.

1994 — Beech Aircraft, a Wichita institution for 62 years, is renamed Raytheon Aircraft Company

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