Keeper of the Plans

Exploration Place unveils plans for major overhaul

The floor plan for “Design, Build, Fly.”
The floor plan for “Design, Build, Fly.” Courtesy photo

Exploration Place’s largest overhaul in its 17-year existence is almost complete.

The new exhibit –“Design Build Fly” – is scheduled to open to the public on Dec. 2.

The museum’s president, Jan Luth, unveiled plans for “Design Build Fly” on Monday.

The 5,100-square-foot exhibit is designed to tell the story of Wichita aviation – of the city’s past, present and future place in aviation history. It will replace the current “Exploring Flight and Design” permanent exhibit.

“This is specific to Wichita, the county and the region,” said Jason Cox, president of Cox Machine and a member of the exhibit’s advisory board. “This is the things we do in this area that make us unique, and this exhibit celebrates that. A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to go into an aircraft manufacturing company or a design studio or a flight test area.

“This is going to pull back the curtain on that process and show you how it happens.”

The exhibit will be split into three sections: “Design” explores the engineering process, “Build” demonstrates how an airplane is manufactured, and “Fly” features the science of aerodynamics and flight tests.

Inside the exhibit, there will be multiple airplane parts on display, including a couple of fuselages – one from a Boeing 737 and another from a typical business jet.

All of the components of the exhibition will be interactive, including stations where guests can build a propeller, design a flight-test plan, experience a wind tunnel – even an area where people can experience the smells of an aircraft factory.

The design of the exhibit, all the way down to the blues, grays and reds in the color scheme, is “meant to represent how it might feel to be on a manufacturing floor,” Cox said.

“This exhibit is really about trying to tell a unified story about our history and Wichita as a whole,” Cox said.

The signature feature of the museum’s current “Exploring Flight and Design” exhibit – a “Wind Wall” made up of 350,000 silver disks that shimmer and shift to demonstrate wind patterns – will remain.

The plans for this overhaul have been in the works for six years now – the museum first announced its intentions to renovate in 2011.

Because of “tumultuous times” in the industry around then, the museum postponed its plans for a couple of years and focused on other projects, Luth said.

Around 2013, after consulting with leaders in the aviation industry, the museum began to push forward on the project again.

Since then, the museum has been in the midst of a $2.5 million fundraising campaign for the exhibit. As of last month, that campaign was nearing completion after a large contribution from Spirit AeroSystems.

Designs for the exhibit are entirely unique, crafted with the help of a consortium of aviation companies – including Textron Aviation, Spirit AeroSystems, Bombardier, Airbus, Boeing and others.

About a year ago, the museum received a grant of more than $1 million from NASA, just one of nine museums in the country to receive such a grant, according to Luth.

“Based on all the feedback we got, it was because of this unorthodox approach to creating this exhibit – that we didn’t come to the table and say we were the experts,” Luth said. “Rather, we had a panel of people who were our experts, a group of folks and companies in this town that stepped forward to say, ‘we’re going to help you, not just financially supporting this project, but we’re going to help you make sure you’re telling the right story for our community.’ ”

The components for the exhibition are currently being manufactured at Ohio-based Roto.

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt