Kansas City is indisputably a TWA town. Most don’t know that the airline can trace its roots back to KC. Additionally, one of its two former KC-based headquarters is, in fact, now home to the one and only TWA Museum. It’s here at 10 Richards Road in Kansas City that Howard Hughes once officed, and where the airline witnessed explosive growth as passenger aviation quite literally took off.
Before we get too far, I must concede, TWA had nearly vanished from the skies by the time I was really getting excited about commercial aviation. And for that reason, unlike many of my local aviation pals, I don’t have the same fondness and sparkle in my eye when I talk about the airline. Still, I fancy myself a bit of an AvGeek historian and as such do my best to understand the excitement of others for this once-great airline.
The TWA Museum had been established a handful of years ago, but for some reason I never made the time to visit. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Thankfully the TWA Museum carried through with the airline’s 1970s slogan: “You’re going to like us.”
Touring the TWA Museum
If you are looking for airplanes, the TWA Museum is not for you. If you value memorabilia, pristine models, excellent posters, and first-hand recounts of “the good ol’ days”, look no further. The TWA Museum, which is open Tuesday through Saturday, is run by a mostly volunteer staff. Most of the staff are former TWA employees or those who were close to the airline during its golden age. On the day I visited, Keith was my very knowledgeable and patient docent, while a former flight attendant ran the front-end operations. The TWA Museum is by no means large but thanks to a very dense, albeit well organized collection, it would require an hour at minimum to fully appreciate. Admission fees range from free for active-duty military through just $7 for adults.
The TWA Museum is located at what is now the Signature Flight Support FBO on property at the downtown KC airport. While TWA once commanded the entire building, the museum occupies only a few rooms towards the back covering, at best, under 1,000 square feet. But don’t let its size fool you; the museum has a lot to offer. The location of the museum within the building works well, because the entryway is at the end of a long hallway, a hallway decorated top-to-bottom in TWA posters and memorabilia.
My first impression was one of awe as I browsed the striking and rich marketing art which was on display throughout the museum and its corridors. Pictured above are two pieces which I found to be particularly impressive.
I have visited dozens of AvMuseums across the U.S., but this one seems to take special care to capture and preserve the history of the flight attendant. While other museums have a few uniforms on display, the TWA Museum places a great deal of emphasis on uniforms, accessories, and the work of flight attendants to combat discriminatory polices towards them. Most, if not all aviation museums I visit elevate the positive over the negative, while this one uniquely and correctly highlights the plight of flight attendants over the years. A few shocking facts I picked up on my visit:
- Prior to 1968, flight attendants were forced to resign at age 32.
- Prior to 1969, flight attendants were not allowed to marry.
- Prior to 1971, flight attendants could be terminated for becoming pregnant.
These are uncomfortable facts, but it is good that the TWA museum is doing their part to help us understand that blatantly discriminatory practices towards women are not as far in our history as we would like to think. Of course there is still work to be done to obtain true equality for all. Finally, while we have come a long way here in the United States, it’s worth noting some airlines abroad still subject their flight attendants to punitive rules equivalent to those above.
The TWA Museum is home to a wide variety of aircraft models wearing many different TWA liveries. While I am not a model aficionado, I know many AvGeeks are. The detail on many of the models is incredible. I was particularly fond of the very large 747 with full cabin interior visible. The TWA Wings of Pride model perfectly matches the original Wings of Pride, which happens to sit outside on the ramp, and the TWA mockup of the Boeing supersonic transport (SST) was a great reminder of what could have been.
An unexpected and pleasant highlight towards the end of the tour is an opportunity to land a TWA Lockheed Constellation on an eight-screen flight sim. Every other museum I have visited charges a fee for their quick sims, a fee which typically exceeds the cost of admission into the TWA Museum. Not here. It’s a nice bonus.
TWA Museum Conclusion
The TWA Museum is small but dense, and well organized. It is definitely worth the cost of admission which currently maxes out at $7. Expect to spend at the very least one hour on the guided tour plus self-led browsing. While admission for children under age five is free, as a father myself, I would recommend not bringing them along. This is decidedly not a child-centric museum and having young ones tag along might lead to a rushed experience.