There's a place in our museum where the skies are blue, the winds are light and it's always a great day to fly.  Join our guide today, as we take a trip in our popular Constellation flight simulator. Grab a seat by the control column, set your feet on the rudder pedals, push the throttles forward, and enjoy the ride.

As you'll quickly see when you enter our museum, the Lockheed Constellation played a major role in the history and development of TWA.  Notice numerous models of the distinctive three-tailed "Connie", as well as several items related to it, in our gallery rooms. It is, however, our Constellation flight simulator that quickly catches the eye of our visitors. It's no wonder why. 

Poised on Runway 19 at Kansas City Downtown Airport (our museum's home), our Connie is ready to roll.

The beginning
The story of our simulator starts at the University of Central Missouri, in Warrensburg. There, Chris Nold, a student pursuing aviation-related studies, worked to develop air traffic control and flight simulation tools for UCM's aviation training lab. Karen Holden Young, from our museum's Board of Directors, learned of UCM's aviation department and the impressive work Chris and other students there were doing. Karen is also the granddaughter of Paul Richter, one of the three founders of TWA. She and her family had been looking to bestow a gift to a worthy aviation learning institution and approached UCM. The result was the creation of the Paul E. Richter TWA Scholarship Fund at the University of Central Missouri. Chris applied and was among the first students to be granted funds from the scholarship. Shortly thereafter, a grateful Chris came down to the museum to meet everyone, and it was there that he offered to build an interactive flight simulator exhibit for the museum's visitors to use and enjoy. To show their appreciation to the Richter family, Chris and UCM provided the materials and time to research, develop and construct the simulator.

About the simulator
Using Microsoft's FSX as a platform, Chris developed customized enhancements to design a simulator that would work well in our museum environment. After successful prototype testing in a St. Joseph, Missouri garage, Chris installed the real thing in our museum. With help from family members, the cockpit consoles and enclosure (seen in the photo above) were built and we were airborne! Over the past three years. the simulator has been used by hundreds of museum visitors without skipping a beat, clearly a tribute to Chris' skill and design talents.Three years, however, is a long time in the world of computer design, and Chris (now a member of our museum's Board of Directors) has begun development of a next-generation simulator which will offer our visitors an even more realistic flying experience. Stay tuned.

Chris Nold in front of our museum's flight simulator

Let's fly!
A typical flight on our simulator begins with the Connie poised and ready to roll, at the threshold of the southbound runway at the museum’s home, Kansas City Downtown Airport (MKC). Push the four throttles forward, accelerate to rotate (or lift-off) speed of 100 knots (115 miles per hour), gently pull back on the control column and you’re airborne. As you retract your landing gear, downtown Kansas City appears off your left side. As you fly over Kemper Arena, it's just about time to make a wide right turn to the northwest and head up to Kansas City International Airport (MCI), about 25 miles away. Should you lose your visual point of reference at any time in your flight, a modern-era GPS display will confirm your position (your trusty museum guide will be keeping an eye on your whereabouts, as well). We have two ways to get you to MCI. One is a quick hop to either of the northbound runways at MCI and the other, a longer "downwind" approach to the southbound runways. The latter involves more turning and handling of the airplane. In either case, as the airport starts coming into sight, it's time to start configuring the Connie for landing by reducing your power and lowering initial approach flaps. As the runway starts to appear in front of you, there's more work to be done. Carefully watch your speed, rate of decent, flap settings, and oh yeah, don't forget to lower the landing gear! That set of four red and/or white lights ahead of you on the side of the runway you're headed for is known as PAPI (Precision Approach Path Indicator).Your goal is to see two white and two red lights. Then you'll know your altitude is just right. Your guide will help you to adjust your approach altitude, as PAPI transmits its sequence of lights to you. Remember, the lights are there to guide your altitude only. Be sure to keep your plane headed for that center line of the runway. Finally, the sound of screeching tires signifies your landing. Push the tops of the rudder pedals for braking. You made it!

Sounds easy, right? Well... maybe. To be honest, it can be challenging, especially for first-time pilots. So, we're here to help the whole way. To start, your guide will give you a pre-flight briefing to familiarize you with the Connie's controls and instruments, and the route of your upcoming journey. Among the highlights of the briefing:
  • Have a good time. Flying our Connie is really a fun experience. 
  • Go easy. Like any airplane, our Connie responds best to a light and confident grip on the controls. And the Connie really does WANT to fly... Working with the aircraft will produce the best results. 
  • You'll probably hear your guide repeating the statement "watch your altitude" during your flight. You don't want to be soaring like an eagle, when the runway appears in your view.
  • Landing the Connie is the most difficult part of your flight, so don't expect perfection. Don't be surprised if the big bird does a few bounces before settling down. In fact, some simulator pilots don't quite make the runway and end up on streets and in backyards even we're not familiar with. Luckily the Connie is very forgiving and will get you safely down on (or through) most anything. 
  • We have a perfect safety record. We have never lost a guest (or a guide) in a simulator flight mishap. If an unpleasant meeting with the ground looks imminent, we know where the simulator's reset button is! 

    Flying our Connie simulator has universal appeal. On any given day, our "pilot roster" includes people from age five through ninety-five. Some are (or were) pilots by profession, but many have never flown an airplane before. You might even catch one of our guides taking the Connie for a quick spin, during a break. We do it to keep our skills up. But between us, we mostly do it because it’s really fun!

    Retired TWA pilot (and museum guide) John Coleman prepares for take-off, during
    some down time.  Although John never flew a Constellation for TWA,
    he began his career in aircraft maintenance, working on several of them.

    Guiding you along
    Museum guide Art Lujin has flown with hundreds of visitors on our simulator. His career with TWA spanned over 25 years, mostly in aircraft systems engineering. Art spent the latter part of his career in the aircraft acceptance office, acquiring new and used aircraft for TWA's fleet. He's also no stranger to aircraft simulators, having spent time in real, multi-million dollar simulators at TWA training facilities and at the Boeing factory. Although not a pilot, Art has learned a great deal from his fellow volunteers who were TWA pilots.

    Art especially enjoys helping guide first-time simulator pilots and shares their excitement when they land successfully. Art's advice is to take it slow and easy. “Most people will over-control, climbing or descending too quickly or turning too sharply,” he says. Sometimes, a visitor may forget it's just a simulator. Art recalls one guest who tensed up to the point where he had to ask Art to hit the reset button to end the flight. “He just wasn’t enjoying it," recalls Art. “It's best flown if you're enjoying yourself." Fortunately, most all of our visitors have a great time with Art and our other guides, flying the Connie.

    Our visitor pilots benefit from Art Lujin's knowledge, friendliness
    and sense of humor.

    While we enjoy flying with everyone, it's most rewarding to fly with our younger guests. We're often impressed by their level of interest and enthusiasm. Giving young people the opportunity to learn about commercial aviation and the TWA legacy is a great part of our work here at the museum. After observing them taking control of the Connie, we're pretty certain we'll be seeing some of them in a real cockpit someday.

    A recent visitor to the museum, 10 year-old Carson is at the controls.  He informed us he
    is interested in pursuing a career in aviation. We have a feeling he'll succeed.  

    Some info about the real thing
    Our simulator is the Lockheed Constellation model 1049G (also known as the "Super G"). TWA flew several Connie models from 1946 through 1967. Twentry-eight of them were the Super G. This later-generation model first flew in 1955, throughout the U.S. and across the Atlantic Ocean. The Super G was eventually retired in the mid 1960s. We hope our simulator will spark your interest in the history of the Constellation and its legendary career with TWA. For example, many of our visitors are surprised to learn that Howard Hughes was instrumental in TWA's decision to acquire the Constellation or that the Constellation was the last propeller-powered aircraft TWA flew as the transition was being made to jet aircraft. These and many other stories are told in Constellation-related displays and photographs we have, at the museum. There's no doubt, however, that taking her for a spin is one of the best ways to learn about and appreciate this great aircraft. 

    A 1956 flight attendant graduating class poses in front of a Super G.
    (photo courtesy of TWA Museum Archives) 

    So, now that you've met our Constellation simulator and a few of our great guides, come on down to the museum and fly with us. Of course, we hope you'll stick around for a while to enjoy the many other wonderful exhibits on display at the museum, here at the Kansas City Downtown Airport.

    You're always in good hands when retired TWA Captain Frank von Geyso guides you on your flight.
    Frank flew several types of TWA jets within the U.S. and across the Atlantic.

    On a final note
    The Paul E. Richter TWA Scholarship Fund at the University of Central Missouri commemorates not only the memory of Paul Richter, but his dedication to the importance of sharing aviation knowledge. To date, the scholarship has granted funds to eight deserving aviation studies students at UCM. The funds help defray the costs of tuition, books, flying time and other related educational items.

    Article written by Wayne Hammer
    Edited by Larry Dingman
    Additional material provided by Art Lujin and Larry Dingman
    Copy editing by Pam Tucker

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