Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (MKC) Turns 85 August 17

2012-08-16 — / — Friday, August 17 marks the 85th anniversary of the dedication of what is today known as the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport. A birthday party will be held from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. that day at the National Airline History Museum.

Because of its location at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, the airport was originally called “Peninsula Field.” Charles Lindbergh dedicated the Kansas City Municipal Airport in 1927, less than three months after his historic solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. During his dedication speech, Lindbergh praised Kansas City, indicating that the city’s central location and the airport’s proximity to the business district gave the city the potential to become the air capital of the United States. Those strengths indeed became major factors in the airport’s success over the years.

In 1928, a passenger terminal was built for transcontinental rail-air operations and was run by Transcontinental Air Transport and Western Air Express. At the time, Lindbergh was an advisor and pilot for TAT. True to Lindbergh’s prediction, by April 1929, Kansas City Municipal Airport was home to more passenger airlines than any other airport in the nation and had acquired the title, “Air Hub of America.” It was given the Civil Aeronautics Board airport code “MKC”, presumably an abbreviation of “Municipal Kansas City.” TAT eventually merged with Maddux Airlines and Western Air Express to become Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc., or, more famously, TWA. When appointed to lead a committee to select TWA’s World Headquarters, Lindbergh convinced the committee to choose Kansas City, setting the wheels in motion to position Kansas City as an aviation leader on a national scale. The original TWA headquarters, built in 1932, still stands today as home for Signature Flight Support.

After World War II, commercial aviation in Kansas City flourished and growth continued into the 1950s with the construction of the Broadway Bridge. Renowned aviator Howard Hughes, 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 later, the Super Constellation, which could fly at a higher altitude, avoiding air turbulence and allowing faster cruise speeds. A restored 1958 Connie is presently on display at the National Airline History Museum, along with a Douglas DC-3, Martin 404 and thousands of artifacts.

By the 1960s, Municipal Airport could no longer accommodate the larger commercial planes and increased jet and passenger traffic. Plans for a new airport were developed and commercial air operations were transferred to a newly built Kansas City International Airport in November 1972. The Municipal Airport’s name was changed to Kansas City Downtown Airport in October 1977 and then again to Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in 2002.

Today, the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport serves more than 70,000 aircraft per year and generates more than $280 million in annual economic impact. The airport is a 24-hour facility offering fuel, maintenance, aircraft rentals, sales and flight training. More than 200 aircraft are based at MKC, with the most common aircraft using the airport being Beechcraft King Air turboprops and Cessna Citation jets. Hangar 10 and Signature Flight Support service most of these aircraft. The Aviation Department’s new General Aviation Terminal and Hangar Complex boasts 112 hangars, tie-down positions, a self-serve avgas fueling station and an outdoor aircraft washing area. Most of the airfield recently underwent a much-needed $70 million overhaul.

Historic video and photos are available on the airport’s Facebook page The airport web site is

The Kansas City Airport System is an enterprise fund department of the City of Kansas City, Missouri, and is supported wholly by airport user charges. No general tax fund revenues are used for the administration, promotion, operation or maintenance of the airports in the system. Visit for more information. Find us on Facebook and Twitter

Joe McBride