October 28, 2013

Kansas Aviation Museum’s gala to focus on fun with 1960s theme

The Kansas Aviation Museum’s annual gala, called “Fly Me to the Moon,” will have a different look and atmosphere from galas of the past.

The Kansas Aviation Museum’s annual gala, called “Fly Me to the Moon,” will have a different look and atmosphere from galas of the past.

It won’t include a dry chicken dinner or a boring speaker, said Lon Smith, Kansas Aviation Museum executive director.

“Our whole gala ... over the past couple of years has been transforming into a completely different form of event,” Smith said.

This year’s gala will feature an induction ceremony for national aerobatics champion pilot Joyce Case James into the Kansas Aviation Museum Hall of Fame and a brief presentation by Bombardier Learjet, the event’s sponsor, to celebrate its 50th anniversary of the Learjet.

“Then it’s just fun and bedlam,” Smith said. “We’re trying to get away from the dry chicken and boring speaker type of event and really just make this fun.”

The changes are paying off, he said.

Already, 430 people have made reservations, a record.

“We’ve never had more than about 325 (people),” Smith said.

The 1960s-themed gala will include casino-like gaming tables. Guests will receive chips and then will be able to cash them in for tickets in an attempt to win prizes.

Area restaurants will set up food stations. An Elvis Presley impersonator, a silent auction and live auction also are planned.

Smith expects the event to generate gross revenue exceeding $100,000.

The gala is one of two major fundraisers for the museum. The other is its annual golf tournament.

With the proceeds, “we help support salaries and keeping the doors open here,” Smith said. It takes $50,000 a month to do so.

Joyce Case James

James, this year’s inductee into the Kansas Aviation Museum Hall of Fame, is a former Wichita pilot, aerobatics champion, production test pilot and show performer, according to information from the Kansas Chapter of the Ninety-Nines.

James soloed on her 16th birthday, earned her private pilot’s license at age 18 and her commercial license at 19. She became the first woman in Kansas to earn her airline transport pilot certificate. Her father, Dean Case, was her first flight instructor.

In 1956, at age 19, James joined Central Airlines in Fort Worth, Texas, as a flight attendant. At the time, the airlines did not hire female pilots.

James began flying aerobatics in a Great Lakes trainer, and, at age 21, won her first national competition. She traveled the country performing at air shows, winning the Women’s National Champion title in 1960 and 1965.

In 1960, she joined Beech Aircraft, helping new owners take delivery of their airplanes, then moved into marketing and sales, demonstrating the Beech Bonanza to potential buyers.

She then joined Cessna Aircraft, where she demonstrated the new Cessna 150 Aerobat and flew the model in promotional films and air shows. She also did demonstration flying for the Cardinal RG.

In 1962, Beech wooed her back to develop the Beech Aero Club program. She was one of three pilots selected to tour the U.S. in the newly developed Beechcraft Muskateer.

She then became the first woman to join Beech’s all-male production test pilot team, where she tested Bonanzas, Barons and King Airs.

James became qualified to work as an air traffic controller at Beech Field. In 1986, the Federal Aviation Administration hired her as an aviation safety inspector. She later became principal operations inspector at the FAA’s Wichita Flight Standards District Office, where she worked until her retirement.

She now lives in Texas.

The gala will be Nov. 14 at The Cotillion. Tickets are $100. For reservations, call (316) 683-9242.

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