TWA PILOTS - CHAIRMEN OF
THE "BOARDS"


In over 75 years of operation, safety and reliability were the highest priorities at TWA.  In meeting these goals, TWA provided its pilots with superior training facilities and tools. Visitors to the museum experience this firsthand, as they are taken into our Education Center to visit the pilot training  "boards".  As you'll read, our guide thinks this "hands-on" exhibit is a highlight of any visit to the museum.


After visiting our two main galleries, a short walk will bring you to our Education Center.  It's sometimes said the journey is half the fun and that may very well be the case as your short walk will take you through an active aircraft hangar operated by Signature Aviation, a fixed base operator at the airport.  This very hangar served as TWA's first aircraft maintenance facility in Kansas City in the early 1930s.  While today occupied by sleek business jets, picture the hangar as it was over 80 years ago, filled with several TWA DC3s, lined up for servicing with teams of TWA mechanics tending to them. Can't quite picture it?  No problem, we have the photographs!  Now, let's take a left turn into the Education Center.

Our large Education Center room offers a display of items TWA used to train flight crews, predominantly through the 60s and 70s.  Most notable?  Interactive simulator panels, known commonly as the "boards”.  We recently acquired ten of them, of which five are exact reproductions of flight engineer panels from Boeing 707 and 727 aircraft, down to each dial, gauge and switch. For training purposes, they were designed slightly larger than on the actual aircraft.

On the narrow side of each flight engineer panel board, notice concealed rows of small switches, which allowed an instructor to  simulate operational and/or emergency situations.   On the Boeing 707 electrical system simulator for instance, an instructor could simulate a generator failure, challenging a student to take corrective action. After "fixing" the problem, students observed the effect of the correction on the instrument panel and on a large back-lit schematic display, which was located to the right. The really neat thing is that some of the boards still function!  Our guides can  activate a board for you, showing what pilot training was really like.

Retired TWA Captain Ray Rowe, one of our guides, demonstrates the Boeing 707 electrical
system panel.  Captain Rowe trained on this very board, in 1965!


As you can probably tell above, these boards are large!  The flight engineer panel boards are over seven feet long and stand over seven feet high.  They were manufactured by the Gemco Corporation, in Tulsa Oklahoma.  In addition to the five flight engineer panels, there are boards to simulate landing gear systems, autopilot operation and wing and tail control surface operation.  Feel free to turn the control yoke and watch the ailerons on a Boeing 707 wing move accordingly

Boeing 707 spoiler, aileron and flap settings board
Our boards were originally installed at TWA’s Transportation Training Center. Opened in 1957 and located at 13th and Baltimore Streets in downtown Kansas City, the Center occupied five floors comprising 45,000 square feet. It was considered “the gold standard of airline training” at the time. Thousands of pilots, flight attendants, and other employees learned and trained on—for the time— the most modern, comprehensive learning tools.  The facility also contained early-generation cockpit simulators (before the advent of computer-generated graphics). Over time, improvements in technology and the need for larger and/or more decentralized facilities resulted in the Transportation Center being phased out.  The building was eventually demolished.

Photo of the Transportation Training Center.  Based on the tour bus advertisement, this photo
was likely taken in the early 1970s.  Note the pilot flight bags standing on the sidewalk, 
on the right.  (photo courtesy of TWA Museum Archives)

Interesting tidbit:
Before the days of computer simulation, visual cockpit simulation  at the Transportation Training Center was provided by a maneuverable television camera mounted on a track, above a model landscape of an airport runway and its surrounding area.  The model landscape, similar to that you might find on an electric train set, offered trees, hangers, and other cues designed to make the scenario lifelike.  One of our museum guides remembers touring the simulator as a small boy in the late 50’s. The instructor conducting the training flight that day was in a somewhat playful mood and uprooted a fake tree, replanting it in the middle of the runway. The landing resulted in a life-like airplane/tree collision and some colorful language was heard from the Convair 880 simulator pilot.  Our guide does not recall if his parents covered his ears.

Museum note:
Our Education Center also provides a break in the tour, as you’re invited to relax in our MD-80 seats. We have 24 economy class seats, laid out in 4 rows.  No need worry about leg room.  Unlike an actual MD-80, we set up our "cabin" with a comfortable 38”-40” seat pitch.

Have a seat while viewing the boards.  No need to fasten your seat belt!


About the displays:
So how did we acquire the boards? Often times, the story behind how we obtain items is as interesting as the items themselves.  So it is with the boards. Upon their removal from the Transportation Training Center, the boards moved for a time to TWA’s training facilities in St. Louis. TWA then donated them to Central Missouri State University. The university then donated them to the Nicholas Beasley Museum in Marshall, Missouri.  TWA Museum Director Pam Blaschum recalls that representatives from that museum contacted us, told us about the boards and lamented how they were running out of room to “store” them.  A group led by Pam headed out to Marshall, finding the boards sitting idly in rows, in a dark and cold hangar. Arrangements were quickly made and the boards came in out of the cold, and back to life in our Education Center. Museum volunteers maintain them, keeping as many as possible operational. If you're in the Kansas City area or will be visiting, we hope you'll spend some time with us in the Education Center, as well as the seeing the many other great exhibits at our museum.


Article written by Wayne Hammer
Additional research and editing by Larry Dingman
Copy editing by Pam Tucker


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