The TWA Museum in Kansas City is a dusty little jewel that fits right in with the amazing lineup of museums in this fair city. My brother, science teacher and aviation enthusiast, wanted to check this museum out on a recent visit. I was apprehensive about going, as my interest in planes is on the same level as my absolute lack of interest in cars, and fretted when researching the museum, when google told me the average visitor spends three hours there.
It turned out to be a wild wonderland of aviation oddities, fun stories. An endearing staff leads you through the entire history of one of the hippest airlines for most of its 70 year run, headquartered in Kansas City until the mid sixties.
The museum is located on the grounds of the downtown airport, in a nondescript building near hangers and runways. Walking in, you pass hallways filled with pictures, posters, and assorted ephemera dotting the years TWA was a working airline. At the end of a long hallway, you’re greeted by the admission desk, and a small room packed to the ceiling with model planes, plane parts, flyers, posters, outfits, hats, tools and everything you would ever need to run an airline.
The small room gave off a vibe of your grandmother’s attic – slightly musty, haphazard, and just full of things that somebody spent their life collecting. The lack of curation was a welcome relief to all of the overly thought out museum experiences out there today. There’s so many specific messages, lessons, ideas and visions museums often sculpt collections in weird ways. The TWA Museum did none of this – it laid out TWA’s soul in chronological order – from start to finish – with all its warts (highjackings, crashes, aborted supersonic jets) and successes (the grandeur, attitude, pioneering airline), leaving the visitors with a true experience and showing off the love of its former employees who assembled, donated and cared for this collection.
This love for this long gone airline is best seen through the eyes of its former employees, who are the glue that binds this entire experience together. Mike, retired mechanic who worked for TWA for 35 years, gave us a detailed step by step tour of the entire collection. His enthusiasm, pride and love for the airline was palpable. He quickly answered any questions you had and knew more about these planes, aviation, and this airline than you can imagine. He was personable and enthusiastic, and served as the real highlight of the tour.
What we thought was going to be a long hallways of pictures and a smallish room filled with memorabilia quickly expanded beyond our wildest thoughts. We were wisked through a hanger and onto the operating airfield. There we boarded a corporate jet and an old TWA plane. Moving ahead, we ended up in a slew of other rooms filled with complex training apparatus for pilots. We received complete explanations of what a lot of switches did (before computers) to keep the planes in the air. Amabassador Rooms, a library and rooms filled with machinery and plane parts fleshed out the whole experience.
- The New York skyline
- a very cultish L. Ron Hubbard looking portrait of Jack Frye, TWA founder
- a moment that didn’t end well for anybody: TWA sponsoring the Saint Louis Rams
- and a picture of the Pope on his trip to America in the 90s.
There were plenty of cool, old outdated charts and maps:
POSTERS AND CHARTS
There were tons of great old safety posters hanging throughout the technical rooms:
One of my favorite parts of the museum! Old travel posters showing off the true TWA style were also all over the place:
The TWA Museum was an unexpected gem! It was a wild collection of TWA history. With the wildly interesting collection assembled by donations by former employees and donors, the museum should be on every Kansas Citian’s radar. The pride of the ex employee volunteers show off how corporations used to care. It’s truly a slice of life in the aviation business that will never return.
My brother tried his hand at landing a plane at MCI. Luckily, a museum volunteer walked him through it all. The landing was still a bit rough.