August 17, 2022 marked the 95th anniversary of the dedication of what is today known locally as the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (nationally as Kansas City Downtown Airport, MKC). Because of its location at the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers, the airport was originally called “Peninsula Field.” The great influence that Trans World Airlines has had on MKC, and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, is one that this 95-year history can never ignore.
In the 1920s, air travel was new and uncertain. City booster Lou Holland, one of the first to see its possibilities, became the "Father of Kansas City Aviation" when he helped establish Kansas City's first municipal airport.
Lou Holland came from New York to Kansas City in 1902 to work for a printing and engraving company, but later started his own firm. After becoming president of the Chamber of Commerce in 1925, Holland strove to enhance the city's industrial growth. He believed that air transportation was vital to industry and persuaded a contract carrier to set up an airmail route.
In May 1926, National Air Transport made its first local airmail run from Richards Field, 11 miles southeast of the city limits. Shortly afterward, the government declared Richards Field—and the city's 40 other tiny airfields—unsuitable for airmail flights. Holland proposed an overgrown field just north of the Hannibal Bridge and downtown as an ideally situated airport site. City Manager Henry F. McElroy scoffed, insisting that aviation was a fad. After months of argument and persuasion, Holland not only changed McElroy's mind, but also made him an airport booster.
On August 17, 1927, more than 10,000 Kansas Citians mobbed the new airport to see air hero Charles Lindbergh land his "Spirit of St. Louis" and dedicate the airfield, less than three months after his historic solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. During his dedication speech, Lindbergh praised the City of Kansas City, Missouri, indicating that the city’s central location and the airport’s proximity to the business district gave the city the potential to become the air capital of the United States. Those strengths became major factors in the airport’s success over the years.
Holland knew that Kansas City also needed passenger flights to become a true air center. He played a key role in persuading Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) to establish its headquarters here. TAT (later TWA), made its first coast-to-coast flight via Kansas City in 1929. More than a dozen other passenger lines eventually operated out of the airport.
In 1928, a passenger terminal was built for the transcontinental rail-air operations and was run by Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) and Western Air Express. At the time, Lindbergh was an advisor and pilot for TAT. True to Lindbergh's prediction, by April 1929, Kansas City Municipal Airport was home to more passenger airlines than any other airport in the nation and had acquired the title, "Air Hub of America." It was assigned the Civil Aeronautics Board airport code “MKC”, presumably an abbreviation of “Municipal Kansas City.” TAT merged with Maddux Airlines and Western Air Express to become Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc., or TWA. When appointed to lead a committee to select TWA's World Headquarters, Lindbergh convinced the committee to choose Kansas City, setting the wheels in motion to position Kansas City as an aviation leader on a national scale. The original TWA headquarters, built in 1932, still stands today and houses Signature Flight Support. The TWA Museum is also inside the building.
After World War II, commercial aviation in Kansas City flourished, and growth continued into the 1950s with the construction of the Broadway Bridge. Renowned aviator and movie producer Howard Hughes, who was the principal shareholder and de facto leader in TWA from 1939 to 1960, was a frequent visitor to Kansas City Municipal Airport. TWA initially prospered under Hughes. It became the first company to use planes with pressurized cabins for domestic service, which dramatically reduced the time of flights. Hughes was instrumental in persuading Lockheed to construct the four-engine Constellation or "Connie," and later, the Super Constellation, which could fly higher and faster. As it grew, the company began adding international routes and in 1950 was renamed Trans World Airlines. The company also developed a reputation for luxury and glamour, which brought about a great deal of attention to the City of Kansas City. The airline flew a number of celebrities, and introduced amenities such as in-flight movies. In 1960, Hughes’ erratic behavior and somewhat-questionable financial decisions caused the company to pressure him into leaving. In 1967, TWA began offering jet service for all of its domestic and international routes, the first airline to do so.
Once one of the leading airlines in the world, Trans World Airlines (TWA) was in business from 1930 to 2001. The company was one of Missouri's premiere corporate citizens, and contributed a disproportionately high level of non-payroll spending for goods and services within the State of Missouri because of its hub residence in St. Louis and its maintenance base in Kansas City. At one point, almost thirteen thousand people were employed by TWA within the state, with these employees occupying well-paying jobs, requiring high skills, which were pivotal to the state's economy. An economic impact model, developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1990’s, stated that at the time, the presence of TWA annually contributed over $4.3 billion in sales volume and over $1.1 billion in income for Missouri. TWA’s presence in Kansas City was a boon for the city’s economic development, as was the company's flight attendant training school that operated in Kansas City from 1969 to 1988. In its heyday in the 1960’s and 1970’s, TWA was Kansas City's biggest private employer, with the TWA Overhaul Base regarded as the crown jewel of the airline's local operations.
TWA had its first headquarters at the Kansas City Municipal Airport, and additional offices were scattered throughout the city. In 1956, the company decided to consolidate all of its operations into one facility. A new headquarters building was constructed on 18th Street at the site of the former Muehlebach Brewery. The 124,000 square foot building was designed in the International Style by architects Raymond Bales Jr. and Morris Schechter at a cost of $1.5 million. At the time, the corporate headquarters building was the first major commercial structure built in the city in decades. It was notably constructed using a process called Youtz-Slick, in which prefabricated slabs of concrete were lifted by hydraulic jacks and attached to the steel beams. The exterior was covered in red and white metal paneling. In the early 2000’s, the building was restored to its original appearance, and today it houses offices for a local advertising company. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. The TWA Corporate Headquarters Building, located at 1735 Baltimore Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri served as the world headquarters for TWA from 1956 until 1964.
TWA's technical services were the airline industry's leader and set the standards for airframe, power plant and avionics technicians. TWA's mechanics developed a reputation as being among the best in the airline industry, a legacy that continued under American Airlines ownership. The Kansas City Overhaul Base opened in 1957 at a cost of $25 million and was marked an attempt to keep TWA in Kansas City following the Great Flood of 1951 which had destroyed TWA's facilities at Fairfax Airport close to the Missouri River. TWA's plant had been in the former North American Aviation B-25 Mitchell bomber plant at Fairfax. TWA labeled the building MCIE (after the airport's original name of Mid-Continent International Airport). The airline also moved its large overhaul operations at the New Castle County Airport in Delaware to Kansas City. The Kansas City Overhaul Base was a 1.7-million-square-foot manufacturing and maintenance plant adjacent to Kansas City International Airport. The plant at its peak in the 1960’s and 1970’s employed more than 6,000 people who worked on repairing the entire fleet of Trans World Airlines (and other airlines under contract).
TWA pioneered the airline industry and contributed greatly to the development of safety and passenger service. TWA was the first airline to:
July 13, 1925
Western Air Express (WAE) is incorporated. WAE would merge with Transcontinental Air Transport to form “TW&A”
Jack Frye, Walter Hamilton and Paul E. Richter founded Aero Corporation. “Aero” was a distributor for Eaglerock airplanes, with sales of sixty planes in the first year of operation. They also offered flight training and charter flights.
Standard Airlines created as a subsidiary of Aero Corporation.
November 28, 1927
Standard Air Lines began operations as Arizona’s first interstate and intrastate scheduled air carrier with first round-trip scheduled passenger air service between Los Angeles-Phoenix-Tucson (with president Jack Frye as first pilot).
February 4, 1929
Standard Air Lines (passenger subsidiary of Aero) launches “First” U. S. Coast-to-Coast Transcontinental plane-train passenger service from Los Angeles-El Paso-St. Louis-New York (new stops of Douglas and El Paso added).
July 7, 1929
Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) inaugurates coast-to-coast air and rail service on route laid out by Col. Charles Lindbergh from New York to Los Angeles (Glendale) via Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri; Wichita, Kansas; Waynoka, Oklahoma; Clovis and Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Winslow and Kingman, Arizona.
August 4, 1929
Standard Air Lines, Inc. launches luxury Fokker tri-motored air passenger service.
Standard Airlines sold to Western Air Express. Part of the sale agreement was Frye would join Western Air Express on the Board of Directors and as Chief of Operations.
October 1, 1930
The “TWA” brand is born when TAT and WAE merge to form Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. which was known as T&WA October 25, 1930
T&WA inaugurates coast-to-coast all-air service. The cross-country journey takes 36 hours, including an overnight stop in Kansas City.
T&WA relocates its headquarters from New York to Kansas City.
August 6, 1931
T&WA inaugurates the first air cargo service in the U.S. with a shipment of livestock from St. Louis to Newark.
September 20, 1932
T&WA and Douglas Aircraft sign a contract for development of a revolutionary new all-metal twin-engine airliner, dubbed the Douglas Commercial Model 1 (DC-1)
The first and only Douglas DC-1 ever built, the first of the legendary line of Douglas Aircraft planes is delivered to T&WA.
May 18, 1934
The Douglas DC-2, the production version of the DC-1 and forerunner of the DC-3, enters commercial service on T&WA’s Columbus-Pittsburgh-Newark route.
December 27, 1934
Jack Frye is named President of T&WA and Paul Richter is named Vice President. Over the next 12 years T&WA will grow from Tri-Motors to Constellations and emerge as a major world airline.
December 6, 1935
First T&WA “air hostesses” begin flying aboard the DC-2.
June 1, 1937
Sleeper berths are introduced in T&WA service.
Howard Hughes acquires control of T&WA. Although never holding an official position with the airline, he will own and control TWA for the next 25 years.
T&WA offers the first-ever in-flight audio entertainment, providing individual receivers to passengers to listen to commercial radio programs.
July 8, 1940
Boeing 307 Stratoliner service is inaugurated by T&WA providing coast-to- coast travel in 13 hours, 40 minutes. The Stratoliner is the first pressurized, all- weather commercial airliner.
April 17, 1944
Howard Hughes and T&WA President Jack Frye pilot a new Lockheed 049 Constellation from Burbank, California, to Washington, DC, in 6 hours 57 minutes, setting a new cross-country speed record.
February 5, 1946
T&WA begins transatlantic service with the Lockheed Constellation flying the New York-Gander-Shannon-Paris route. Later that year, T&WA adds service to Rome, Athens, Cairo, Lisbon, and Madrid.
March 31, 1946
Inauguration of T&WA’s international service to Rome, Athens and Cairo.
May 1, 1946
Inauguration of T&WA’s international service to Lisbon and Madrid.
January 30, 1947
Inauguration of transatlantic all-cargo service. This was the first regularly scheduled direct all-cargo service ever operated over the North Atlantic.
October 1, 1948
Inauguration of all-sleeper luxury service from New York to Paris, known as the “Paris Sky Chief,” and from Paris to New York, known as the “New York Sky Chief.”
T&WA’s corporate name is officially changed to Trans World Airlines, TWA.
The Missouri River floods at Kansas City, extensively damaging the TWA overhaul base at Kansas City, Kansas, Fairfax Municipal Airport. In the aftermath of the flood TWA and Kansas City begin development of a new, flood-proof TWA overhaul base and a new international airport north of the city.
May 31, 1952
The first TWA Ambassadors Club opens, at Greater Pittsburgh Airport.
October 19, 1953
TWA begins the first non-stop eastbound scheduled transcontinental service with Super Constellations. The flight from Los Angeles to New York took 8 hours. Because of prevailing head winds, westbound transcontinental service continued to stop in Chicago to refuel.
Most TWA executive offices are relocated to New York. Training, maintenance and engineering and administrative functions remain in Kansas City.
January 3, 1957
TWA is the first airline to offer passengers freshly-brewed coffee in flight.
TWA occupies its new $25 million maintenance and overhaul base at Mid- Continent International Airport, Kansas City. Fifteen years later, in 1972, commercial air service for the Kansas City region is relocated from TWA’s long-time home at Municipal Airport to Mid- Continent, which is renamed Kansas City International Airport.
September 29, 1957
TWA launches polar route service from Los Angeles to London with the 1649A Constellation.
The first edition of Ambassador Magazine is published.
March 20, 1959
TWA initiates jet service from San Francisco to New York, using the Boeing 707-131.
June 30, 1961
TWA files $115 million damage suit against Howard Hughes and the Hughes Tool Company, alleging violations of the Sherman Act and Clayton anti-monopoly acts.
July 19, 1961
TWA introduces in-flight motion pictures. The first feature: “By Love Possessed,” starring Lana Turner.
The Trans World Flight Center at Idlewild (later John F. Kennedy) International Airport, New York, is opened.
October 1, 1962
TWA inaugurates the fully automated, Doppler radar system of navigation on scheduled transatlantic flights. The New York to London flight was the first transatlantic flight (commercial or military) ever operated without a professional navigator aboard.
June 1, 1964
TWA inaugurates Boeing 727 service.
May 3, 1965
Howard Hughes liquidates his TWA share holdings, selling 6,584,937 shares and netting $546.5 million.
October 4-5, 1965
Pope Paul VI returns to Rome on a TWA special charter flight after his historic visit to New York.
April 6, 1967
The last TWA Constellations is retired from passenger service. TWA becomes the first U.S. airline to go all-jet.
August 1, 1969
TWA inaugurates transpacific and round- the-world service.
December 3, 1969
The Breech Training Academy opens in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas.
February 25, 1970
TWA inaugurates Boeing 747 scheduled service nonstop from Los Angeles to New York. TWA is the first airline to offer 747 service in the U.S.
July 1, 1970
TWA becomes the first airline to offer no- smoking sections aboard every aircraft in its fleet.
November 1, 1970
TWA introduces new Business Class Ambassador Service providing a “whole new way to fly,” and featuring “twin seat” accommodations on transcontinental routes.
June 25, 1972
TWA inaugurates Lockheed 1011 service. The first flight, operating from St. Louis to Los Angeles, is flown on autopilot from takeoff to landing.
January 1, 1979
Trans World Corporation is formed. Subsidiary companies will include Trans World Airlines, Canteen Corporation, Hilton International, Spartan Food Service and Century 21 Real Estate.
December 3, 1982
TWA operates its first Boeing 767 flight, from Los Angeles to Washington’s Dulles airport.
TWA is spun off from Trans World Corporation as a new public company.
TWA launches its first transatlantic service with the Boeing 767 wide-body, the industry’s first ETOPS (extended- range twin-engine operations) service.
June 14, 1985
Shiite gunmen seize a TWA airliner and force it to Beirut, Lebanon. A U.S. Navy diver was killed and 39 Americans held hostage for 17 days.
September 26, 1985
Carl Icahn acquires control of TWA.
October 26, 1986
TWA acquires Ozark Airlines and merges Ozark into TWA’s operations.
September 10-21, 1987
Pope John Paul II travels on a specially configured TWA 727 and 747, accompanied by two chartered L-1011’s.
September 7, 1988
At a special meeting, TWA stockholders approve Carl Icahn’s proposal to take the company private. The privatization takes $610.3 million out of TWA — of which $469 million goes to Icahn — and adds $539.7 million to TWA’s debt.
Carl Icahn moves TWA headquarters from 605 Third Avenue to his own building in Mt. Kisco, New York.
July 1, 1991
Carl Icahn sells TWA’s route authorities from New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago to London to American Airlines for $445 million.
January 31, 1992
TWA files a petition for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code.
May 1, 1992
Carl Icahn sells TWA’s route authorities from Philadelphia and Baltimore to London to USAir for $50 million. TWA retains St. Louis-London route.
May 1, 1992
TWA opens the Constellation Club in its John F. Kennedy International Airport terminal as a luxury lounge for full fare Ambassador and First Class Transatlantic passengers.
August 24, 1992
TWA and the TWA Creditors’ Committee announce the signing of agreements in principle with TWA’s three major unions for concessions in exchange for a 45% equity stake in the airline.
January 8, 1993
Carl Icahn resigns as chairman of TWA, relinquishing all control and interest. The direction of TWA is placed in the hands of a two-man Management Committee (Co-Chief Executives) appointed by TWA employees, unions and creditors.
January 14, 1993
TWA inaugurates “Comfort Class” service, “the most comfortable way to fly,” with extra leg room in the main cabin.
November 3, 1993
TWA completes Chapter 11 reorganization. The employees of TWA own 45 % of the airline upon emergence; creditors own the remaining 55 %. William R. Howard assumes the title of chairman of the board and CEO.
November 23, 1993
TWA receives the 1994 J.D. Power & Associates award as the #1 U.S. airline for customer satisfaction on long flights.
TWA relocates its corporate headquarters from Mt. Kisco, New York, to St. Louis.
Jeffrey H. Erickson is named president and chief operating officer (later named chief executive officer).
March 15, 1995
TWA introduces Trans World One, its enhanced international business class.
TWA files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and successfully completes a second financial reorganization within two months.
August 31, 1995
TWA becomes the name sponsor of St. Louis’ new NFL stadium, the Trans World Dome.
Pope John Paul II travels to Newark, Baltimore and Rome on a specially configured TWA 767-300 aircraft on the final leg of a week-long visit to the U.S.
TWA introduces a distinctive new aircraft livery.
February 12, 1996
TWA announces plans to acquire 20 new 757-200 aircraft, the airline’s first major new aircraft acquisition program since before the Icahn era.
June 24, 1996
TWA opens a new state-of-the art reservations center in Norfolk, Virginia. The facility utilizes object-based PC reservations format for computer systems.
July 16, 1996
TWA announces an order for 15 new MD- 83 series aircraft from McDonnell Douglas.
July 17, 1996
TWA Flight 800 from New York to Paris crashes shortly after takeoff, killing all 230 passengers aboard.
Feb. 12, 1997
Gerald L. Gitner is named Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
May 14, 1997
TWA announces second daily round-trip flight between St. Louis and London.
Royal Jordanian Airline and TWA begin code-share service between the U.S., the Netherlands and Jordan. TWA is the first U.S. airline to offer direct service to Amman.
December 31, 1997
TWA finishes the year ranked #2 for domestic on-time arrivals as reported to the U.S. Department of Transportation for the year, up from #10 in 1996.
TWA introduces Trans World First, its new domestic first class service, featuring a 60% expansion of the number of first class seats in the narrow-body fleet.
TWA introduces TWQ, its new high- frequency business market service.
February 20, 1998
TWA retires the last of its Boeing 747 “jumbo jets” The newer and more efficient Boeing 767 wide-body is now the airline’s main intercontinental aircraft.
April 22, 1998
TWA announces an order for 24 MD-83 twinjets, all to be delivered during 1999.
May 1, 1998
TWA launches AviatorsSM, its new frequent traveler program.
May 12, 1998
TWA receives the 1998 J.D. Power & Associates/ Frequent FlyerMagazine award as the #1 U.S. airline for customer satisfaction on flights of more than 500 miles.
October 21, 1998
TWA announces the acquisition of four Boeing 757s and one Boeing 767-300ER, giving TWA a fleet of 27 757-200s and 5 767-300ERs by January 2000.
December 9, 1998
TWA announces the largest aircraft order in company history for 125 B717s, A328s and A320 family aircraft plus options on 125 additional aircraft.
January 27, 1999
TWA once again has the honor of carrying Pope John Paul II home from St. Louis to Rome.
May 11, 1999
TWA receives the 1999 J.D.Power & Associates/Frequent Flyer Magazine award as the #1 U.S. airline for customer satisfaction on flights of less than 500 miles.
May 25, 1999
Captain William F. Compton becomes Chief Executive Officer. Gerald Gitner remains Chairman.
July 28, 1999
TWA and Trans States Airlines renew their marketing and code-sharing alliance which provides Trans World Express regional service at TWA’s St. Louis hub.
October 11, 1999
TWA records its 50th day of 100 percent completion of schedule for 1999, far above previous annual records set in 1997 and 1998.
November 1, 1999
TWA makes San Juan, Puerto Rico the airline’s first “focus city.” Operations from San Juan are increased to fifteen flights per day to eight destinations, plus Trans World Connection turboprop service (operated by Gulfstream International Airlines) to six Caribbean points beyond San Juan.
November 3, 1999
TWA announces plans to launch regional jet service by the summer of 2000 with a new marketing agreement with Indianapolis-based Chautauqua Airlines, which will provide Trans World Express RJ service.
November 18, 1999
TWA announces a major service expansion, adding 46 roundtrip flights per week including new or increased service on routes to the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii and the Middle East.
December 1, 1999
TWA and Kuwait Airways begin code-share service on Kuwait flights between Chicago, JFK and Kuwait City; and on TWA flights beyond JFK and Chicago.
December 21, 1999
TWA and Boeing close out a 67-year era of partnership as the airline takes delivery of the last twin-engine transport to bear the Douglas name, an MD-83 christened “Spirit of Long Beach.” TWA placed the initial order for a Douglas twin – the DC-1, built to order for TWA – in 1932.
TWA takes delivery of the first of a new breed of twin-engine airliner, the Boeing 717-200. TWA has orders for 50 717-200s with options for 50 more.
TWA celebrates its 75th Anniversary.
January 10, 2001
TWA files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for a third time and agrees to sell most of its assets to American Airlines. The sale, which is subject to approval by the bankruptcy court, brings an end to the financially troubled TWA, whose roots can be traced back 75 years.
(This bankruptcy was filed for the benefit of American Airlines taking over TWA.)
July 1, 2003
TWA Ceased all flight operations as an LLC under American Airlines.
September 24, 2010
American Airlines closed the KCAC Overhaul Base