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Discover Mid-America — March 2008

Remembering Municipal

by Doug Bratcher

The hub of Kansas City in the late sixties was the Municipal Airport located in a bend of the Missouri River, north of downtown. From its beginning in 1922 as Richards Field to the end of commercial service in 1972, it was the gathering place for travelers and aviation watchers alike.

The Wheeler Downtown Airport (formerly Kansas City Municipal Airport) from Quality Hill, Aug. 2006 (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Major air carriers completed the transition to all-jet fleets at that time, making the airport crowded with the four-engine Convair 880 and the Boeing 707 along with the Douglass DC-8. Skilled pilots landed DC-6 four-engine prop planes safely for many years though the airport’s runways were considered inadequate to do so.

Airlines using the field were a mix of pioneers and new regional carriers that sprang up after World War II. The largest users were Trans World Airlines flying around the world from its headquarters at 10 Richards Road. Braniff International Airways was the major north-south carrier with routes extending to Mexico and South America. Delta flew to Atlanta and the south, Continental to the west and United from the northeast to Denver and beyond. North Central, Frontier and Ozark provided service to smaller cities.

Charter flights brought in carriers from all over the globe with names like Pan American, Lufthansa, National, Japan Airlines and KLM.

The airline world was full of glamour and well-dressed passengers and employees. Coats and ties were standard attire for men and ladies always wore dresses. There were no loading bridges and the elements were often a challenge when boarding planes parked 50 yards or more from the terminal building. Airlines handed out umbrellas on rainy days and wind took its toll on them many a time. Passengers dealt with prop wash and jet blast with fewer complaints than with security measures of today.

The airport was fenced to keep small animals off the taxiways and runways, and one could drive off of Lou Holland Drive or Richards Road right onto the airport ramp areas. More than once, airline personnel escorted lost drivers off the runway. Three airport officers filled the 24-hour, 7-days-a-week operation.

Movie stars, singers, ball players and beauty queens mingled in the lobbies with other travelers. Joe Gilbert’s “Four Winds” was the place to go for a fancy meal. Skycaps moved baggage to and from the curb and assisted elderly passengers and young children to the ticket counters. All the employees knew each other by first names and would help each other no matter what airline they worked for.

Airlines were known as much for their logos as for their names painted on the side of the fuselage. TWA used a globe and Continental a golden tail. Braniff had its “BI” and North Central had geese. Delta was known for its triangle and Ozark had three swallows. Those distinctive logos have gone into the hangars with most of the airline companies that paved the way for the modern traveler.

Progress?

Doug Bratcher and his wife Jan own Bratcher Cooperage in Liberty, MO.

 

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