Boeing Wichita has been part of Kansas business landscape for more than 70 years. The company is a direct descendant of the Stearman Aircraft Company, co-founded by Lloyd Stearman. Stearman, a native of Wellsford, Kan., had designed airplanes since 1920. His designs included the New Swallow, and later the “Model A” Travel Air – after he co-founded Travel Air Manufacturing Company Inc., with Walter Beech and Clyde Cessna.
Striking out on his own and moving to California in 1926, Stearman’s interests turned to stunt flying and building airplanes for movie stars. Joined by Kansas flyers Fred Hoyt and Mac Short, who also had migrated to the West Coast, he became part of the founding trio of the Stearman Aircraft Company which initially produced the C-1, followed by the C-2.
The company moved to Wichita the following year and started up shop in a 14,000-square-foot, one-story building north of town. The first product was a three-place open biplane – a mail and passenger model – dubbed the C-3B. It was the type of airplane used by Charles Lindbergh to survey the Transcontinental and Western Airways routes.
Boeing Wichita History – 1929-1940
In 1929, Stearman became part of the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UAT), a parent company previously known as the Boeing Airplane and Transport Company, Seattle. A year later, Stearman moved into a new facility south of Wichita at the present site of Boeing Wichita’s operations.
Stearman landed its first major military contract in 1934. The $300,000 award from the Navy covered manufacture of 61 Model 73 biplane (Kaydet) trainers.
This was also the year Stearman was pulled out of UAT and became instead a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Seattle-based Boeing Aircraft Company. The Stearman firm continued to build its own designs in Wichita under its own name and model designations. This continued until 1938, when it became the Stearman Division of Boeing Airplane Company (now The Boeing Company).
Boeing Wichita History – 1941-1947
In 1941, the threat of war brought big changes to the company. By spring of 1941, the U.S. government had begun construction of the current Plant II adjacent to company-owned property, and had selected Boeing to produce the B-29 Superfortress. Later in the year, the facility was designated the Wichita Division of The Boeing Airplane Company.
Boeing Wichita began production of 750 gliders (Model CG-4) under a subcontract from Cessna in 1942 for use in the Allied invasion of Europe.
The first Wichita-built B-29 rolled out in April 1943. At the same time, the company reached peak production of 275 trainers a month. During World War II, Boeing Wichita built 44 percent of all U.S. primary trainers for the Army and Navy, while 13 other manufacturers produced the rest.
The plants reached top B-29 production — 4.2 Superfortresses a day — in July 1945. In all, Wichita produced 1,644 of the bombers (including 41 equivalent aircraft in spares).
The World War II employment peak of 29,795 came in December 1943. Less than three years later, after the war and receipt of five Army and Navy “E” awards for production efficiency, Plant II was closed and Boeing employment totaled about 1,000 at the company-owned Plant I.
Boeing Wichita History – 1948-1962
Plant II was reactivated in March 1948 for modernizing and modifying B-29s and B-50s, and when B-47 production began six months later, 1,400 people were on the payroll. Employment rose through the years until it passed 35,000 in 1957.
In all, 1,390 B-47s were produced at Wichita. Engineering responsibility for the program was transferred to Wichita from Seattle in 1951, and two years later the Kansas facility was named second source for B-52 Stratofortress production. Tooling-up and production of the B-52 were conducted concurrently with manufacture of the B-47 until the latter program ended in 1956.
Engineering responsibility for the entire B-52 program was transferred to Wichita from Seattle in 1958. The last B-52H was delivered to the Strategic Air Command in October 1962. B-52 production at Wichita totaled 467 units and included D, E, F, G and H models of the Stratofortress. From 1927 to 1962 Boeing produced 15,000 aircraft at Wichita. This total includes:
- Miscellaneous early models 266
- Kaydet (primary trainer) *10,346
- CG-4 cargo glider 750
- B-29 bomber *1,769
- L-15 liaison aircraft 12
- B-47 medium bomber 1,390
- B-52 heavy bomber 467
- *Includes spares equivalent to 1,762 Kaydets and 125 B-29s
After the last B-52 was delivered from Boeing Wichita, the company turned more to commercial support work, helping build Boeing jetliners. Final assembly was done at Boeing facilities in Seattle.
In 1969, engineering responsibility for the KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft, which was built in Seattle, was transferred to Wichita. In 1973, the company began its involvement in design and production of nacelles and struts for aircraft equipped with JT3D, CF6, and CFM56 engines.
Boeing Wichita operations are divided between commercial jetliner support work, and military modification and support programs: Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group, Wichita Division; and Military Programs, Wichita Division.
The company that started operations at Wichita in one building nearly three-quarters of a century ago is now one of The Boeing Company’s prime aircraft engineering, fabrication, and assembly centers.