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McIlwaine Speaker Series – “Six Wichita Stories of Aviation”

Six Wichita Stories of Aviation

by Edward Phillips

Over two days, Edward Phillips will discuss aviation stories set right here in the Air Capital including- E.M. Laird, Stearman Airplanes–A Legend In Their Own Time, The Women’s Air Derby of 1929, The Cessna CR-Series Racers, The Saga of PK-SAM, and “Superfortress.”

  1. E.M. Laird: Centers on his contributions to the birth of airframe manufacturing in Wichita. Development of the “Swallow” biplane and establishment of the city’s first airplane company. Laird’s often contentious relationship with J.M. Moellendick; hiring of Walter Beech and Lloyd Stearman; leaving Wichita in 1923 and returning to his native Chicago to start his own airframe business aimed at air mail, sportsman pilots and air racing.
  2. “Stearman Airplanes—A Legend In Their Own Time”: Traces the aviation career of Lloyd Carlton Stearman and the evolution of the Stearman Aircraft Company. The first airplane young Lloyd saw was flown by an Oklahoma farmer turned “aeronaut” named Clyde Vernon Cessna. Stearman served in the U.S. Naval Reserves during World War I, then attended college to pursue a degree in architecture. In 1919 he chose aviation over architecture and was hired by E.M. Laird as part of a small workforce in Wichita building a new biplane. He joined Walter Beech and Clyde Cessna to form the Travel Air Manufacturing Company, and by 1927 he led the Stearman Aircraft Company in California before returning to Wichita where he designed biplanes to carry the air mail. Stearman, as well as his airplane designs, became a legend in their own time.
  3. The Women’s Air Derby of 1929: Examines the formation of a five-airplane team of Travel Air biplanes flown by lady aviators including Louise McPhetridge von Thaden, Marvel Crosson, Blanche Noyes, Florence “Pancho” Barnes, and Mary von Mach. Tells the story of the Derby along its 2,400-mile route from California to Illinois as part of the 1929 National Air Races.


  1. The Cessna CR-Series Racers: The C.V. Cessna Airplane Company existed for merely three years and only built three airplanes, but these racers made headlines in Wichita as they competed for prize money in the dangerous sport of air racing. Includes a few very rare photos of the first Cessna CR-1 that is known to have flown only once or possibly twice, before being redesigned. Features information about Eldon, who was instrumental in designing and building the racers and worked hand-in-hand with his father, Clyde. Overall, a glimpse into a little-known story about a tiny company that achieved fame and even a little fortune during its brief existence.
  2. The Saga of PK-SAM: Story of a Beechcraft E17 equipped with floats and flown extensively in Northern Borneo by Rev. George Fisk in the years prior to America’s entry into WW II. The airplane was used by Fisk to spread the Gospel for the Christian & Missionary Alliance church, as well as tending to the native Dyak’s medical needs. An interesting look into how a Beechcraft from Wichita played an important role in far away outpost amongst cannibal peoples, and how it’s mission finally ended.
  3. “Superfortress”: In 1940 the city of Wichita, Kansas, was suddenly and unexpectedly ordered to build America’s new superheavy bomber—the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. By 1942 the “Boeing Airplane Company—Wichita Division” began a four-year struggle to build the four-engine bomber that was designed specifically to pummel the homeland of Japan into rubble. A massive new factory complex was constructed in record time, and the first B-29s began rolling off the assembly lines in 1943. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted Japan bombed into unconditional surrender, and Wichita-built B-29s were the first to strike Japan in June 1944. When the Pacific war ended in September 1945, Boeing’s Wichita Division had produced 1,644 airplanes and earned a sincere “thank you” from Henry H. Arnold, commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces.

About the Speaker

Edward H. Phillips is an American writer/historian, aviation industry reporter, and aviator who has specialized in the general aviation industry of the central United States—with particular emphasis on the aviation history of Wichita, KS and its aircraft manufacturers. Phillips earned a degree in journalism, with a minor in aviation, from the University of North Dakota. Most noted as an aviation writer and historian, with numerous publications, including nine books and over 1,000 articles on aviation and aerospace topics. 

Doors open at 1:00pm
Program starts at 2:00pm
Open to the public
Free admission

Upcoming McIlwaine Speaker Series Topics-

August 10th – “The Women of Brown” by Donna Rae Pearson

November 9th – “Researching Your Home and the People Who Lived There” by Diana Starnes Dean

This quarterly speaker series is made possible through a generous grant from the Charles and Joanne McIlwaine Foundation.

Floor 2

On the second floor you’ll find: The DeVore Auditorium containing the Victorian Silver Plate exhibit, the Vintage Drugstore, A Child’s World exhibit, and numerous special exhibits.

Learn more