Wichita has turned out tens of thousands of planes over the years, but nothing the Air Capital of the World produced could match the aura of the Learjet.

"There's no denying that there's simply never been any business jet before, or since, that has had quite the cool status of a Learjet," said aviation historian Richard Harris.

Courtesy Bombardier

It’s the end of an era for one of Wichita’s most well-known aviation brands.

Production on the Learjet, the first mass-produced business jet, will end later this year. More than 3,000 Learjets have been sold since its first flight in 1963.

Boeing's 737 Max jet is flying commercial routes once again, as Brazil's Gol Airlines brought the jetliner back into service Wednesday. The worldwide fleet of 737 Max planes has been grounded since March 2019, after two deadly crashes raised concerns over the aircraft's safety and airworthiness.

Hugo Phan / KMUW

Wichita is known as the Air Capital of the World — birthplace of Beechcraft and Cessna, and home to Spirit AeroSystems, Textron Aviation and dozens of aviation supply companies.

But continuing troubles with Boeing’s 737 MAX and a downturn in air travel due to the pandemic have led to massive layoffs across the industry, once again raising the question: Is Wichita too reliant on aviation?

Hugo Phan/KMUW

2020 has not been kind to aviation manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems. The continued grounding of the Boeing 737 Max — the company's most important program — was compounded by a near shutdown of commercial air traffic because of the pandemic. That has resulted in thousands of layoffs at Spirit since January, along with furloughs and pay cuts.

Despite the drumbeat of bad news, Spirit has consistently remained optimistic when discussing one topic: its defense programs.

Spirit says about 15% of its revenue comes from defense work. It wants to grow that number to 40%.

Hugo Phan / KMUW/File photo

Spirit AeroSystems’ first-quarter earnings were as dreary as expected.

The company said Wednesday its revenue dropped by nearly half  from roughly $2 billion to $1 billion — in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same quarter in 2019.

Chris Neal / For the Kansas News Service

WICHITA, Kansas — It’s a simple, tempting pitch: hands-on training tailored for specific, high-demand jobs.

It led thousands of students to enroll in Kansas technical colleges. But COVID-19 and a collapsing aviation industry undid that promise.

A Delta Airlines Boeing 777
Delta Airlines

The coronavirus pandemic is raining on just about every type of business.

For the airline industry, though, it’s a full-blown monsoon.

The major domestic carriers are losing tens of millions of dollars a day. Airline traffic has fallen to levels last seen 60 years ago as carriers cancel flights and park their planes.

Textron Aviation

Textron Aviation in Wichita says it is furloughing “most" of its U.S.-based staff for four weeks beginning Monday.


Officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are investigating the scene of an explosion Friday at the Textron Aviation plant in east Wichita.

Officials say 15 people were injured – one critically – when a nitrogen line ruptured, leading to the explosion. The blast heavily damaged the Plant 3 building at the former Beechcraft plant, near Central and Webb.

Plant 3 houses composite manufacturing and experimental aircraft fabrication, according to Textron Aviation spokeswoman Stephanie Harder.