At the moment I'm feeling just like a kid in a candy store. Wichita, Kansas does that for any long-time American aviator. Wichita is where Beechcraft, Cessna, Lear Jet all build the aircraft that they sell today. Even Boeing still has part of the action as they build the fuselages for their 737 airliner here and then ship them by rail for completion near Seattle. Today the company names have changed, as in Spirit now a part of Boeing, Beechcraft merged with Hawker, an English company, to form Hawker Beechcraft and Bombardier of Canada, snowmobile maker, manufactures the Lear Jet and several other business jets and small airliners. It all sounds like a mixed-up mess but makes sense to some of us who are interested.
I'm in Wichita to learn to fly an airplane new to my experience. My classmates here and I are doing it the modern way. We just finished what for me was a long week in the classroom going over hydraulic, electrical, engine, propeller, environmental, avionics (modern term for radios and instruments), autopilot systems and more. Gone are the days of the myriad familiar round dialed gauges and instruments that for me were familiar to the instrument panel. Now the pilot looks at a flat screen, much like today's flat screen television sets, with about everything that he needs generated by a computer, six in this airplane, and portrayed on the flat screens in front of him. Many call it the glass cockpit. The autopilot, when engaged by the pilot, also looks at and follows what those computers generate. The trick then is figuring out to tell the computer what you want it to do.
It all may sound a bit complicated, and this old pilot will admit that it is a little intimidating, but for sure it is worth the learning.
Modern business aircraft, like current airliners, are equipped to detect other aircraft that might fly close and become a collision hazard. They also have equipment on board that warns that a collision with the terrain may be imminent and warns the pilot to avoid that danger. Many lives have been saved by such equipment and it is well worth the trouble it takes to learn to take advantage of it all. For the young who grow up doing video games, modern cell phones and the like it is a piece of cake. For us old guys, well, it takes a bit more concentration.
This week it is into the full motion flight simulator to get hands on experience in operating the aircraft. They promise that we will be proficient and ready to fly the real airplane when we get back home. Modern wonders never cease.
For some reason Wichita seems not to be a destination for most of us who live in Southwest Nebraska. However it is not a lot further drive than Denver or Omaha. With a population of almost 600,000, Wichita has a lot to offer. I remember that in the 1950s, Gene Malleck and probably others worked in Wichita, building B-47s here at Boeing.
Mike and I are fortunate to have long-time friends living here. They are Jay Johnson who used to own McCook Municipal Airport's Johnson Flying Service, and his wife, Bonnie, past post-mistress at Trenton and Bartley. Jay is also an instructor in the school that we are attending. The Johnsons proudly gave us a tour of "their" town, the dynamic old town section refurbished into nice hotels, upscale restaurants and night clubs, a large convention center and a huge new event center. The place was hopping on a typical Saturday evening. A highlight was dinner at the "Hangar Steakhouse," my kind of place. The walls are tastefully decorated with aviation themed pictures, airplane artifacts and many large models hanging from the ceiling. Upstairs in the "tower" one can watch aircraft arrive and depart from nearby Mid-Continent Airport. And, yes, the food was excellent.
A surprise to me, Jay pointed to a large modern building with a large Airbus sign prominently displayed. Airbus is a European consortium that builds airliners in competition with Boeing so why the large design center right in the middle of aviation America? The answer is the large number of aeronautical engineers living here, who, with their expertise, designed the efficient wing of today's Airbus Airliners.
Another surprise was to drive by Kirstie Alley's design studio and a few blocks away her present home. Wichitans are proud of their homegrown movie and long- time star of TV sitcom Cheers.
Judging from the number of new housing developments around Beech Field here the town seems to be growing. With a large diversified manufacturing base, I see a dynamic future. I could live here but for sure don't plan on moving..
What is with the troubled kid shooting the Congresswoman in Arizona? Then, too, another troubled kid shoots his school principals in Omaha.
That is the way I saw it.