This morning, I had the honor of welcoming an iconic piece of aviation history back home to Kansas City, MO. I watched the event unfold while standing on the roof of what was once an early Trans World Airlines (TWA) stronghold.
Looking into the sky, I could see a tiny red speck on the horizon that slowly grew into a beautiful red/white MD-83 (reg: N948TW). It was something unique, and certainly not common at the Charles B. Wheeler downtown airport (MKC).
Soon one of the most iconic (albeit nearly forgotten) planes to grace the Trans World fleet landed and taxied to within a few yards of TWA’s first headquarters in Kansas City, and former office of Howard Hughes himself.
The TWA Wings of Pride, after 27 years of service across the world, had finally reclaimed its greatest livery and arrived back to the birthplace of its former airline, courtesy of TriStar History and Preservation and their patrons.
About the plane
The MD-83 (SN 49575/LN 1414), which would become TWA’s Wings of Pride, got its start in 1987 with Spantax, a short-lived Spanish airline. Months later, the plane went to another short-lived Spanish airline, LAC. After less than a full year with the Spaniards the plane found a new home with BWIA West Indies Airways, where it operated until 1994. The plane would find its way into the TWA fleet as a gift from the employees to the airline, employer, and family they so loved. But the Wings of Pride’s story doesn’t end in 1994’¦
The Wings of Pride briefly wore the airline’s final formal livery (oddly enough, often referred to as “the final livery”) before being flown to TWA’s overhaul base at Kansas City International to receive a special inverted retro-livery.
The retro livery was based off of what was sometimes referred to as the “red and white” or “double stripe.” It was a mostly white fuselage with twin red cheatlines and large block lettering, but this plane was different.
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What was traditionally white was to be red, and vice-versa. This simple color swap took a rather tame livery to the extreme. Simply stated, the livery was as bold as the act of kindness which led to its dedication. The employees who raised the $233,000/month for the lease determined the inverted livery would send a message to employees and customers alike: TWA had taken a beating but they weren’t giving up and this symbolized they were reinventing the airline from the inside out.
The Wings of Pride would wear this special livery until the end of TWA.
On Saturday, December 1, 2001, TWA flew its last flight. Flight 220, the ceremonial final TWA flight, departed Kansas City International (MCI) for Lambert St. Louis airport (STL) linking the two great Missouri cities that had shared in TWA’s heritage. The plane to carry the lucky passengers for the farewell flight was none other than the Wings of Pride, captained by TWA president Bill Compton.
According to a first-hand testimony from flight 220 passenger Ryan J. Pearl, after a water-cannon salute in KC and early departure passengers were presented with mementos, champagne, and “Trans World First” first-class boxed meals. After a fly-by of the STL airport the plane landed (ahead of schedule) to receive a final water cannon salute.
Fight 220 quickly taxied to STL’s gate C-10, ending TWA’s 76-year history and beginning a new chapter as a part of American Airlines.
Wings of Pride proudly wore its custom livery for a few more months before again returning to KC’s overhaul base in 2002, now under control of American Airlines.
The plane was stripped of its special livery only to receive the standard American Airlines bare metal scheme that the airline was so well known for. All that distinguished the plane was its registry which was preserved as N948TW. Over the next 12 years, memories of Wings of Pride would fade as the plane blended in with the rest American’s “Super 80” fleet.
In 2014, the plane was saved from salvage in a deal between American, TriStar History, and a number of sponsors. The Wings of Pride would again return to the KC overhaul base, only this time neither TWA, nor American, occupied the base. For nearly a year, the plane would sit on the ramp as funds were raised to remove the American Airlines livery and return it to the beloved inverted color design.
Wings of Pride will remain at the downtown airport with the TWA museum as a reminder to KC citizens of their rich aviation history. It will be kept in flying condition and pending various FAA approvals may be used to provide flights to patrons who supported the acquisition and re-livery before being used for educational purposes. Additionally, TriStar History expects to provide some support to honor flights, shuttling military veterans to Washington, DC to visit their memorials. Again, pending various regulatory approvals. The Wings of Pride will be one of the honored stars of the August 22-23 Kansas City Air Show.
TWA’s link to Kansas City
It’s a little-known fact that TWA was headquartered in Kansas City, MO for roughly half of its existence. Its last KC HQ was opened in 1956 on the corner of 18th and Baltimore in the historic Crossroads District. The airline remained incorporated in KC until the decision was made to relocate its executives to New York City in the late 1960s. Even with the loss of the company leadership, TWA maintained a presence at the building for a number of years.
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In 2002, the former TWA HQ was added to the National Register of Historic Places. On the roof of the southwest corner of the building sits a 20-foot tall replica (of a replica) of a TWA Moonliner concept from Disney’s Tomorrowland exhibit. The original replica is on display at the National Airline History Museum (NAHM) which also houses a Lockheed Constellation, Douglas DC-3 and Martin 404, all three in TWA livery.
Kansas City is also home to the TWA Museum (TWAM) which occupies part of a building at the downtown airport which was initially part of TWA’s original KC headquarters. The TWA Museum, as the name suggests, is dedicated solely to preserving the history of TWA and its employees. TWAM is believed to host the most comprehensive collection of TWA artifacts of any museum. The crown jewel of TWAM is a Lockheed Electra Junior 12A, the world’s oldest flying former TWA plane.
About Tristar History
TriStar History and Preservation is a relatively new organization to enter KC’s aviation-related non-profit market. As the name suggests, the organization has a special place in their hearts for the L-1011 TriStar. In fact, they own one which is currently in Victorville, California.
Rather than operate a museum, TriStar is taking a unique and much more active approach in looking to cultivate the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) workers. The organization’s mission is ’œInspiring greater achievement through higher altitude.’ TriStar aims to use flyable aircraft (and sims) in educational and experiential programs to inspire students looks to provide youth.
That’s right. They are recruiting kids to be AvGeeks and pursue STEM careers by offering rides on historic planes. As a lover of aviation history and old planes, a parent, and proud STEM worker, I couldn’t be more excited about the future of this organization. Did I mention they also own a super-rare BAC One-Eleven? It is a very good time to be a KC-based AvGeek!
I heard it come over my house. I would have been outside had I known. It is very beautiful ;brings a tear to the eye.
Since Wings of Pride will be an active aircraft you should have a few opportunities to check it out flying overhead. You might consider signing up for a premium flightradar24 account, plugging in the registry (N948TW) and getting real-time alerts. I envy your proximity to the airfield!
Thanks for the comment, happy spotting!
JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
Several great airlines were destroyed by AAmerican AAirlines, but memories are eternal.
Thanks for reading and for taking the time to leave a comment, Bill. I’m of the opinion that TWA was destroyed not by AA, but Carl Icann. Had it not been for AA we would have lost what little heritage they chose to preserve.
JL Johnson | AirlineRepoter
Exactly, JL. If nothing else, AA provided a lifeline that allowed far more TWA employees an opportunity to finish out their careers than would have otherwise happened after 9/11 hit. There’s little doubt that TWA would have survived what hit the industry just five months after the sale to AA. What happened during the Icahn years was a mortal wound which TWA could never recover from.
Glad to see that she was left in operable condition. Far too often, assets donated to transportation museums are gutted of anything usable, leaving only a cosmetic restoration possible. Seeing this will be just as exciting as it is to see an operating steamliner from the 1940’s or a steam engine from the 1900’s.
Thank goodness she’s back home again in Kansas City at the TWA Museum at historic 10 Richards Road. JET
Thank goodness she’s back home again in Kansas City at the TWA Museum. I have many fond memories of seeing this wonderful plane in CMH and many other locations throughout the TWA system. I’m the son of TWA CMH PRR Gilbert Thompson & grew up on TWA.
Thanks for the comment, Jet! Most certainly a new point of pride for KC aviation fans. I look forward to driving over the Broadway bridge and checking in on WoP from time to time.
Have an excellent weekend!
JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
What an awesome livery! So nice to see it get restored.
I loved TWA when I was a teenager, so I would be all over that TWA museum. I didn’t know there was one, but then again, I’ve never been to Kansas City.
Hi, Lauren. Thanks for the comment! Sounds like this “never been to KC” thing is something we need to fix.
I was a contributor to this aircraft and was proud to have been able to fly the aircraft out of St. Louis to various destinations. Always drew attention.
Glad to know that is now at the TWA Museum.
Hey, Capn! Thanks for reading and for taking the time to leave a comment. It’s quite the striking bird and I suspect will draw a great deal of attention for the TWA museum.
Cheers! JL | AirlineReporter
I spent my entire working career with TWA. Started at K.C.Municipal
as a rampserviceman. I was 18 years of age. Continued on as a Air Freight
Agent, and Ticket Counter Agent.Retiered in 1999 after 43 years @ 3 months
of service to the greatest Airline to ever enter the skys. Also the greatest
group of employes ever employed all over the world.Is great to see these
pictures and stories kept alive. Thanks, Thanks. Don Campbell,Customer Service
Don, thanks for reading, and for the comment. I love it when we’re able to help in bringing awareness to airline history. 43 years, what an accomplishment! Our hats are off to you!
JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
I hired on in June 16 1976 and loved working with TWA but after American took over and lied to everyone about everything it was never the same to work for an airline so early retirement it was.
I`m trying to recall its fleet number with AA 4 something.
Do you think they will ever bring it down to DFW for us to look at sometime?
Can’t help you on the fleet number, but I bet the folks at the TWA museum would know! As for a “tour” of the bird, they seemed open to the idea of it but no formal plans as it stands. I suspect they’ll eventually get her out there, though.
JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
TWLAXR 4/11/55-1/1/84. TWA was the epitome, I so well remember Bishop Fulton J. Sheen frequently referring to “Travel With Angels.
TWA offered Service, in every quadrant. Majority of the employees worked with a sense of pride. Constellations were the most gracefully designed aircraft ever. Each Jet brought its own personality into the equation. On board service was constantly upgraded, foods offered were top of the line, Tastefully prepared and presented, with choices.
I always felt we, TWA was a cut above all the others.
Seeing and reading about Wings of Pride brought about wonderful memories. Finding former TWA Friends and Co-workers via Internet has been great. We all have stories to share, more positive than not.
I’m happy that I had the chance to be a part of the TWA Family.
Terrie, we appreciate your readership and taking the time to leave a comment. We absolutely love it when we are able to help do a little part in telling the story. Do know that TWA Museum is doing an incredible job of keeping the story alive with younger generations. TWA may be gone, but most certainly will never be forgotten. JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
Allow me to run a couple of other no longer flying employers I have had. Around 1949, I applied to Eastern Airlines and was taken to the Reservation office in Grand Central Station, New York City. Upon entering the room and looking around, this 18 year old said ”Looks like a factory,” I did not accept that job. I then joined Colonial Airlines in NYC I remember the Owner/CEO being Sydney Janus. I worked for them until 1951 having learned the pleasure of non-revving. Montreal and Bermuda were the main destinations, Saranac Lake, Malone, Messina, Watertown, Toronto were part of the enroute destinations, DC-3 was the aircraft. My memories of the climb tail to nose bring a smile to my face.
In 1951 after the major incidents at Newark, Flying Tiger had to relocate to continue operations. I became the Station Manager”s secretary. Not yet having a car of my own, I walked to the Belt Parkway exit in Brooklyn where I was picked up by New Jersey employees on their way to work, VV for the way home. It was an incredible experience. I remember crew names such as Leo Tew and David Kern.
Years later I found Dave Kern flying for CAT Civil Air Transport out of Taiwan. That introduced me to SAT, based at Tachikawa, Japan, Southern Air Transport. They tried to hire me then and there. In the end they could not convince the Japanese that the job could not be filled by a Japanese citizen, I remained with TWA.
If anyone wonders I do know the history of those carriers and the ”connection.” 66 years within the Airline industry for me, loved it from beginning to end.
Thanks for sharing this awesome story about an special plane.
Cheers from Hamburg, Germany – Thomas
Just a correction. Spantax was not a short lived Spanish airline, it actually operated from 1959 to 1988 and was based in Madrid.
Hi, Frank. Thanks for the correction. Poor choice of words on my part. My intent was to illustrate that the airline was short lived once acquiring the bird, meaning the plane’s tenure with Spantax was short. After reading your comment I see how that wasn’t clear.
Thanks for keeping us honest!
JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
I worked at the over haul base at Kansas City , Mo I was a welder and sheet metal
I started in 1950 And retired in 86 had many good trips both United States and
Over seas sincerely Ricardo
I worked at TWA from 1974 to 2001 when AA took over. I worked the additional years for AA until the base closed in 2010. I will never forget the hard working people at TWA and all they did to save the airline. It was the best years of my life which I will never forget. Thank you for getting this historic icon into the museum.
I started in November 27th, 1961 and retired October 2000 for 34ears 11 months. It was the best time in my life until the last two years not knowing whether I was going to be laid off. I worked in the planner position and w beorked with a great bunch of people. We all wanted TWA to go on, but with the people on top,It wasn’t going to be. TWA people are the best in the world!!!!!!!
Nearly 35 years, that is quite the accomplishment! Thanks for the comment, Stanley!
JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
The MD-80 is a perfect plane! I remember flights on MD-80 when I was younger and I really like this plane. Btw according to some ranks, the MD-80 series is the second safest plane in the skies!
It was like yesterday seeing that airplane we all bought for TWA! I was so proud to have been given the opportunity to fly for such a company. The mechanics were awesome and us pilots never doubted their work. The agents had the toughest job and I admire them. To all who worked for TWA, I salute!! Well done! Ole Harold
In 1995 I flew my first TWA captain trip with my son Mike as co-pilot, now, almost exactly 20 years later I flew as co-pilot for my son Mike as we returned the airplane back to Kansas City and it was nothing short of wonderful! Its a fine plane, new gear, interior,Paint, the engine indications all lined up perfectly, no leaks,Avionics , autopilot everything worked! we can thank the TWA guys who have been slaving to bring the plane back to use. We can thank American for their donation, and the Tri Star group for certain! But especially the mechanics for such a good job well done!
John, it was great to meet you and your son at the event. Thanks for helping to bring this piece of KC heritage home. Also thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.
JL Johnson | AirlineReporter
Jonathan Barroni you done good ! Saw the YouTube clip when you and Michael flew the airplane into MKC. Fantastic! Sent it to Fredrick. Mike G. must be smiling down on you. Your Grandson seems to be an articulate, nice young man and Michaels clone. I have viewed your website “Barron Aviation” numerous times. What an operation! Best wishes and congratulations to all of you on your great success. RJ
I too am proud to have been employed for 32 yrs. This was a great airline during its prime and even after. When I tell people that I worked for TWA, they always ask “what was it like” and always reply the best. I was an Electrician, Avionics and A&P mechanic in my 32 yrs. It was with pride as I went to work for other companies when ever the TWA name was mentioned, I was asked to tell how great it was to work for the company. that we didn’t last longer but we had one hell of a ride into the sunset.
Is good to see so many fellow employees that have such good memories from a time when we were all Family at TWA.
I had a great 33 years in Kansas City — and am grateful for the fond memories included participating in “Wings of Pride”.
Thank you for bring it back Home!
THANKS FOR THAT *XCELLENT* VERY GOOD WRITE UP ABOUT TWA. I worked for TWA in early 80’s till “THEE END”. You would have to had to work for TWA to call it “MY COMPANY”. I started in Chicago RSV then moved to STL RSV until the day they closed the doors on MONDAY, SEP 15, 2003. Coming to work and watch the BIG BIRD (747), coming in/going out, (Flt 1, or 2, or Flt 721; HNL or LGW) was always amazing to see. I CAN ALWAYS REMEMBER taking a call the “NIGHT BEFORE” FLT 800 from one of the pax who was re-confirming his flt and they were giving him a ‘party’ to celebrate…still even gives me a ‘chill’. As I look at my plastic model of “THE WINGS OF PRIDE” on my shelf, it brings back MUCH MEMORIES of “MY COMPANY”. THANKS FOR THE WRITE UP of “FLYING AS IT USE TO BE”.
I am a ex-Braniff employee. Just discovered this site. Must say we Braniff people felt the same as the feelings of people commenting about the pride the company and the feeling of being a part of something special and wonderful. The Wings of Pride is a awesome addition to the TWA Museum. I wish the very best to all of the TWA family and the museum.
What a wonderful tribute, to the greatest airline! I am proud to say that I was with TWA, for 32 years, having started my career in London Reservations. We were, and are, FAMILY!
God bless all who were part of That Wonderful Airline!
We shall always have the best memories, and hold TWA in our hearts, forever.
Today would have been my Father’s 105th Birthday! He and Mom, and brother Ken, loved TWA!
Thanks for Airline Reporter.
I was with TWA on the Line as an A&E at KCOB, then MCI from Jan.,1952 to Oct.1991, Retired as an A&P&NDT lead inspector. TWA had the best Flight and Maintenance people of any airline.
TWA, had there own KITCHEN at Kansas City that prepared ALL Meals served on TWA in the U.S.A., they were the BEST. [This is unknown to most people]
I am happy to hear from any Kansas City TWA people. wa********@co*.net , Thank You
Hey I tamed for TWA in ABQ 1994-2001. Any chance that WoP will head back this way?
Not sure, Andrew. I got the impression that they really wanted to get the bird out on the circuit but no specific details… Thanks for reading!
TWA will always remain in my heart and mind. After thirty years at JFK and MKC, retiring in 1993 it’s great to see a plane come home.
It brought tears to my eyes to see that picture; I contributed from the outset; I work at AA in LAX and American people cannot understand our love for TWA (most of my coworkers wish we weren’t still here, but too bad, I love reminding them that we were the best, but unfortunately the people at the top didn’t seem to be on the same page with the rest of us). Travel hasn’t been the same since our planes left the sky. Thank you to all that have dedicated themselves to keeping this piece of our history alive. Thank you, thank you.
Thanks for sharing. It is great when a plane, like this, can be so much more than a plane with a shiny livery, but something that reminds us of our connection to aviation and an airline no longer with us!
David | AirlineReporter
How amazing to see this lovely aircraft with a new lease on life….and how wonderful to see so many names I remember! I was an International Flight Attendant with TWA from 1965-1985 when I was badly injured inflight. I could never return to work for the airline and I surely missed the life and all my incredible colleagues. Sadly, I never received my term pass and have been unable to afford to fly. American was forced to pay a disability compensation after TWA’s final bankruptcy but when AAL went belly up in 2011….Chp 11 reorganization….they simply stopped payments! These corporations treat loyal employees abysmally!! I agree with Mr Johnson – Carl Icahn began the demise of a unique airline. But, that said…..to all the flight crew, cabin crew, machinists, cleaners, ticketing staff and clerical workers – be proud that in its day TWA was the very best!
Just for the record, Spantax was anything but a ‘short-lived’ Spanish airline: it operated for some thirty years with a varied fleet that included CV990As and DC-10s.
Hey, JL, loved this story…so many memories of TWA. When I was in about 2nd grade, we took a field trip to the old KC airport (from Border Star Elementary at 63rd and Wornall. I can remember walking on the tarmac and up the stairs under the plane into the aircraft. Of course, it was a TWA plane. I think my aviation bug was spiked then. Or it could have been when I was even younger, when my parents used to go and park at the cliff overlook for the old airport, watching planes land and take off. Great entertainment for a kid growing up! My first plane flight was on TWA, when I was 24 years old (ahem, some years ago), from KC to New York city. That was the golden age of flight, where they treated you like royalty and not a cattle call. My uncle worked at the overhaul base for decades. I can remember him bringing us up there and playing in the flight simulators. Such great memories of TWA, such a historic airline!
Nice article, though a few factual mistakes regarding this particular MD80. It was always fleet number 9408 in TWA service. TWA leased it from Guiness Peat Aviation, an Irish leasing company. Hence the EI- registration. It was delivered to TWA on May 16th 1994.
* When it flew in the ‘reverse’ scheme, it was registered EI-BWD, never N948TW.
* The ‘reverse red’ was not the scheme it flew with until TWA’s absorption into AA. It was repainted in the ‘final’ TWA scheme, and wore special stickers on both sides of the nose and upper rear fuselage that identified it as the ‘Wings of Pride’ aircraft. Here is a photo of it as EI-BWD in the final TWA scheme:
* It was while painted in this final TWA scheme that it was re-registered N948TW, according to one site on April 16th 2001. Anyway, here is a photo of it in the final TWA scheme, as N948TW. See http://www.jetphotos.net/photo/188615
All that said, it is good to see it preserved, and especially as an active aircraft.
Thanks for your article which awakened so many fond memories of the airline that launched my love of aviation. I still have paystub’s with the $25, a pay check, allotment for the Wings of Pride aircraft.
John Banville said, “The past beats inside me like a second heart.”
TWA/AA Flight Attendant
Biggest bunch of lazy and whiney people in the airline industry!!
Thank you for preserving a great airplane (and engines)! Sometime if I ever get to KC, I hope to stop by and see her. You see, I am the designer of the JT8D-217 engine (way back in 1978). I also was involved in the JT8D-217 certification, and later was the marketing engineer for the JT8D’s at P&WA. It is a shame (but progress too) that back in 1980 the MD-80 was the quietest and most fuel efficient aircraft of her size. Now it’s called a fuel hog!
I always enjoyed riding in the MD-80 (and DC-9’s) with their 2+3 seating allowing me to sit by the window and my wife gets the aisle. On my next to last MD-80 flight I was treated to a cross runway takeoff requiring a full power JT8D-219 takeoff (I have it on video)! The pilot was doing some calculations at the gate when I arrived. He was thrilled to have me in back when he set full takeoff EPR!
Another interesting MD-80 story: My college roommate started with TWA and ended up as an AAL MD-80 captain. We met for dinner on his layover, when I informed him I had designed his engines, he gulped, and asked “What grade did you get in propulsion?” I asked how good were my engines, and he replied they were great. “I guess it doesn’t matter what grade I got then!” (ps, I got A’s in both my Propulsion and my Internal Combustion Engine courses).
(now Engine Co-Curator at Aerospace Museum of California)
ps, anyone got a extra JT8D-217?
James thanks for reading and for the excellent anecdote. It”s an honor to have the engineer read my piece.