Keeper of the Plans

Wichita’s aviation workers are the star of major exhibition

New Exploration Place exhibit nearly ready to open

Exploration Place is preparing to open its new multi-million dollar exhibit "Design - Build - Fly" in December. The exhibit takes a deep dive into Wichita's aircraft manufacturing heritage.
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Exploration Place is preparing to open its new multi-million dollar exhibit "Design - Build - Fly" in December. The exhibit takes a deep dive into Wichita's aircraft manufacturing heritage.

Exploration Place’s soon-to-open “Design Build Fly” exhibition gets real.

No more Bernoulli’s Principle or homages to the Wright brothers.

This display is all about the high-tech reality of modern-day airplane manufacturing.

Guests can use a rivet gun (artificial, of course) to tighten rivets on a wing, use PVC pipes to design an ergonomic airplane seat and learn which wires do what.

It even answers that long-wondered-but-never-asked question: what happens after you flush a toilet on an airplane (hint: you can drop yellow or brown puff-balls in to a simulated toilet and watch them fly through a long pipe).

“If you look outside, if you’re downstairs, you can see it coming through the pipe,” museum president Jan Luth said with a laugh. “Everybody giggles about that.”

Exploration Place will open its completely new, permanent aviation-themed exhibit, “Design Build Fly” on Saturday, Dec. 2, a project years – and millions of dollars – in the making. It’s a 5,100-square-foot exhibition filled with about 50 interactives.

If your kids have ever dreamed of working with planes – being a pilot, a technician or an engineer – you’ll want to take them.

Here’s a small sampling of the things you can learn from “Design Build Fly”:

▪ Just how precise the art of painting an airplane can be. The exhibit features an interactive spray-gun that lets people virtually paint an airplane. Then, afterward, the simulator evaluates how well the would-be painter did.

▪ How to identify defects in an airplane wing through infrared. An interactive section shows infrared scans on a touch-screen monitor, and guests can learn how to identify problem spots on the wing.

▪ Piloting a drone is harder than it seems. Above the exhibition, a drone – grounded to a metal arm – hovers, and guests can try flying it around. A nearby screen shows what the drone sees, and it’s not exactly easy to fly the thing.

▪ Train your nose to identify aviation-related scents. One of the interactives lets you try to match aviation smells to their origin – for example, identifying avgas or enamel paint or synthetic hydraulic fluid.

It’s a completely new exhibit, except for the iconic wind wall, made up of 350,000 silver disks that move to demonstrate wind patterns.

“Design Build Fly” is even designed to look like a factory floor, with unfinished airplane parts hanging around – “the secret is what happens behind the doors of all of these companies and corporations in this community,” Luth said.

“(Aviation) is the key economic driver of our community, and we all need to proud that it’s here in Wichita,” Luth said. “From day one, that has also been one of our goals – for the community to feel pride in this industry.”

The flight-themed exhibition prior to this, “Exploring Flight and Design,” was a hallmark of the museum ever since it opened in 2000.

It focused on the physics of flight, which was fine but not unique to Wichita, Luth said.

“It’s an important story and people love it, but we wanted to do something that really spoke to Wichita and the Air Capital of the World,” Luth said. “Physics is embedded in the majority of these interactives, but it’s not called out in and of itself.”

The exhibition was designed over more than 5 years, in direct consultation with local aviation experts from a variety of fields. Throughout the exhibit you can even hear from local aviation workers, who appear on-screen to answer frequently asked questions.

The aim is to inspire children to pursue careers in science and technology, Luth said.

“That spark must come when they’re young – it’s too late when they’re in high school,” she said. “For us this is absolutely a workforce development initiative.”

“Design Build Fly” opens to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2.

Watch crews install "Design Build Fly," at Exploration Place in 30 seconds. The exhibit opens Dec. 2. (Courtesy: Exploration Place/Nov. 27, 2017)

Educator Open House

What: Sneak peek of “Design Build Fly,” open exclusively to educators. It will feature special guest Lisa Wininger, a current fellow in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program (AEF) at NASA. Also featuring light refreshments, beer and wine.

When: 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28

Where: Exploration Place, 300 N. McLean Blvd.

Admission: Free. RSVP at

More information:, 316-660-0600

Exploration Place

Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. Closed Mondays.

Address: 300 N. McLean Blvd.

Admission: $9.50 for adults 12-64, $8 for seniors 65 and older, $6 for youth 3-11, free for children 2 and under

Information:, 316-660-0600