STANDING PROUD - PART I

Some notice the bright red airplane as they're driving past the Kansas City Downtown Airport or while driving across the nearby Broadway Bridge. It's also visible from several points downtown, as you look across the Missouri River, toward the airport. It's been there just over a year, parked on the southeast ramp, just outside the TWA Museum and has become a familiar sight at the airport. It's the MD-83 aircraft that TWA flew as the distinctive "Wings of Pride".  And we'd like to tell you all about it. 


The Wings of Pride on a late summer day, at the museum. The Kansas City skyline completes the picture. 
(photo courtesy of TriStar Experience)


There is much to say about this aircraft, so we'll do it in two parts. In Part I today, we tell the story of how TWA first acquired the Wings of Pride and its history. We'll also discuss its day-to-day existence at the museum, filling several roles, including marking the location of our museum and tirelessly providing a great experience for our visitors. Its most important job, however, is to remind everyone of the legacy of TWA and its employees. Soon, in Part II, we'll tell the story how the airplane was transformed from a retired American Airlines aircraft back into The Wings of Pride...a story of dedication, perseverance and, of course, pride.

To begin our story, we first turn to museum guide Art Lujin. At TWA, Art's division acquired aircraft and helped coordinate the effort to bring (what would eventually be) the Wings of Pride to TWA. In our museum's November, 2015 newsletter, Art wrote about the arrival of the Wings of Pride to our museum. We're pleased to reprint the article here:

In the mid-1990s TWA was acquiring MD-83 aircraft from the McDonnell Douglas plant in Long Beach, CA. The need for short and medium range routes was so great for the replacement of the older DC-9s and MD-82s that we also considered other airlines and leasing companies. As a result we evaluated and selected three of these aircraft from BWIA (British West Indies Airlines) in Trinidad. One of these we decided to acquire had tail number EI-BWD, which became the airplane we will see soon here at this hangar. The "EI" means the airplane was originally registered in Ireland (note that all aircraft registered in the USA have an N number prefix, unlike most of the world). It flew with Spantax, which was a Southwest style startup back in 1988. BWIA acquired those airplanes from them, and TWA in turn from BWIA. In the summer of 1994 that airplane, now N948TW, was signed for and flown to our overhaul base at MCI (Kansas City International) and readied for revenue service. After several employee groups had led a program to show support for the airline and raise morale, they selected this aircraft for a voluntary payroll deduction program to pay for the lease cost for the airline, with the inverted red with white letters paint scheme to make it really stand out. After the merger with American in 2001, they flew it and had their own livery. Thanks to TriStar, they acquired the plane from American last year, repainted it in the original Wings of Pride, re-engined it and accomplished all the airworthiness checks and mods that had to be done to bring it here today. Now it will be based here to support and execute the great TriStar programs, with the coordination of the TWA Museum.

Thanks for the story and information, Art.  And that's just the beginning.

Keeping It Proud
Before discussing the aircraft, let's mention the people who make its existence at our museum possible. Displaying and maintaining a 100,000 pound, 148-foot long aircraft truly requires a collaborative effort. The museum is privileged to work with some very special people and organizations that keep the Wings of Pride available to our visitors. Primary responsibility for maintaining the Wings of Pride rests with its owner, TriStar History and Preservation, Inc. (doing business as TriStar Experience). In Part II, we'll further discuss our friends at TriStar, including how they acquired the plane (after it had flown the line for American Airlines) and transformed it back into the Wings of Pride. We are also pleased to work with Signature Flight Support, on whose ramp the Wings of Pride sits. They keep a sharp eye on it for us, as dozens of business jets and private aircraft transit their operations area daily. We also thank the owners of the airport, the Kansas City Aviation Department, whose cooperation allows us to bring our visitors out to see the airplane. Finally, we recognize our museum's volunteers, who provide the Wings of Pride a huge dose of TLC, making sure the plane is ready for visitors and "put to bed" when we close.

(left to right) TriStar's Cory Mullin and Kerry Floyd (President) stand outside their aircraft.
The Signature ramp operations area, as seen from the nose of the Wings of Pride  


Good Genes
The Wings of Pride MD-83 aircraft carries an impressive lineage that is worth recounting. Manufactured in 1987, it can trace its ancestry back to 1965, when the (then) Douglas Aircraft Company manufactured its first DC-9 twin-jet. The engines were rear-mounted with the elevators situated at the top of the tail, forming a noticeable t-shape. TWA began flying that first model, the DC-9 series 10 (DC-9-10) in March, 1966. They quickly grew the fleet to 20. From this point, we'll be throwing a lot of dashes and numbers at you, so here's some information to help you through it: Each generation of the DC-9 is followed by a dash and two-digit number.  The first digit is the series identifier and the second is the variant, within the series (sometimes there are more characters after the variant, but we won't go there now). TWA first flew two variants of the DC-9-10, the DC-9-14 and the DC-9-15 (one of the differences between the two variants was their maximum takeoff weights). As time went on, Douglas (subsequently renamed McDonnell Douglas) periodically made changes to the aircraft's performance and size, issuing a new series when major changes occurred. In most cases, an increase in fuselage length was the most noticeable change (the difference in length between the DC-9-14 and the Wings of Pride would be an incredible 44 feet). McDonnell Douglas engineers and designers would produce several series before eventually launching the DC-9-80, in 1980. The Wings of Pride is a member of that series. To add further interest to our story, in 1983, McDonnell Douglas updated the model identifier from "DC" to "MD" to accurately reflect the company's initials (which had changed a brief sixteen years earlier!). So, the DC-9-80 series became the MD-80 series. Hence, MD-83 was the designation for the Wings of Pride.

Now comes the part of the story where we really need to concentrate. In 1993, the MD-90 series joined the family, sporting the longest fuselage length yet. In 1998, the MD-95 was produced with a shorter fuselage than the earlier MD-90 and the entire MD-80 series (correct... shorter). Oh, and the MD-95 was quickly renamed the Boeing 717. Stop! The Boeing what? Yep, just to add a final pinch of flavoring to the story, Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas in 1997 and decided to rename the airplane. Boeing's first jetliner, the 707 was produced in 1958, followed by the 727 in 1962. So, why work backwards and choose 717 in 1998?  Our guide knows the answer, but he thinks we've learned enough about this for now. Suffice to say the slot was available, so goodbye MD-95 and hello Boeing 717. The Boeing 717 story is significant, because it ends the family tree begun by the DC-9 in 1965 (remember the beginning of this section?). After manufacturing over 2,000 of these ubiquitous twin-jets, production of the Boeing 717 ceased. TWA would fly the Boeing 717 from 2000 until the merger with American Airlines in 2001. TWA thus had the privilege to fly the very first and very last models in the DC-9 family, as well as variants of the -30, -40, -50 and -80 series in the process.


Time for a Tour
Now that you've rested after reading the previous section, let's have some fun and take a tour of the Wings of Pride. Our tour begins with an orientation. In addition to some of the information contained in Art's article, other interesting facts we'll share include:
  • The interior of the aircraft still looks as it did when American Airlines retired the aircraft from their fleet in 2014. There are 16 first class and 124 economy class seats. Feel free to have a seat up front, in first class. It's OK to leave the kids in coach.
  • This is the very aircraft that flew TWA's last scheduled originating flight on December 1, 2001 (in conjunction with American's purchase of TWA). Trans World Airlines flight 220 flew from Kansas City to St. Louis with TWA's last president, Bill Compton, in command.
  • The Wings of Pride is a "live" airplane - fully flightworthy. However, it is not currently certificated to fly passengers (TriStar is working on that). Its last flight was from Roswell, New Mexico to our museum on August 7, 2015. The aircraft is maintained and monitored by TriStar's technical staff.
  • TriStar plans to refurbish the interior and use the aircraft to support other non-profit causes, including operating "Honor Flights" to take veterans' groups to Washington, DC. The plane's primary purpose, however, is to help fulfill TriStar's mission to inspire young people in Kansas City to pursue STEM careers (science, technology, engineering and math) as well as specific careers in aerospace. We'll talk more about TriStar's mission in Part II.
Reaching the Wings of Pride requires a walk through the hangar adjacent to our museum. As mentioned in a previous blog article, this hangar, erected in 1931, was the first central maintenance facility used by TWA. It's currently operated by Signature Flight Support, who does an excellent job maintaining the facility. Observe the original sliding bay doors that are still in place and the original wood ceiling. The Wings of Pride is on the ramp, about 300 feet outside the hangar. As you arrive planeside and ascend the stairway to the plane's entry door, have your camera ready. The view from the top of the stairway is excellent.

A view from the top of the stairway, right outside the Wings of Pride's entry door.

As mentioned, the Wings of Pride still sports an American Airlines interior, resembling some of American's still active MD-80 series aircraft. We invite you to explore the cabin, without pressure to "please find your seat so we can leave the gate." Look over the cockpit. While cockpit entry is not permitted, you can step onto the threshold to view the throttles, gauges and switches. This 1987 vintage cockpit still features many analog instruments, an increasingly rare sight in today's era of digital instrumentation. Note also that the dimensions of this two-pilot cockpit have remained pretty much the same, since the first DC-9-10 series was produced in 1965!  And here's something interesting: The mechanism that opens and closes the side cockpit windows was originally designed for Douglas' earliest aircraft, such as the DC-1, DC-2 and DC-3. A tribute to the company's great history and engineering legacy. And by the way, don't be surprised if someone in your tour group actually flew the Wings of Pride. On occasion, we'll see former TWA pilots and active/former American Airlines pilots who have flown this very airplane.


Inside the cabin are 16 first class and 124 coach seats.  You'll also get a good look at the entire cockpit.

Finally, let's do a walk-around! While most visitors have flown on commercial jetliners, few have experienced actually walking next to one. While you may not remember everything our guide tells you (he finds this hard to believe), we can promise that you will be impressed by the sheer size and presence of the aircraft. While a "108 foot wingspan" might not sound like much, standing next to one of the wings will probably change that perception. We also think that standing near an engine that can produce 21,000 pounds of thrust or looking up at a 30-foot high tail will surely get your attention.

Standing 30 feet high, this distinctive "t-tail" was seen on over 2,000 twin-jets produced by McDonnell Douglas.


"Can I fly it?"
The large amount of questions we get from our visitors attests to the popularity of the Wings of Pride. We really enjoy this interaction with our guests. Perhaps most enjoyable are the reactions and questions we get from our younger visitors. This past summer, the museum hosted a group of fifty youngsters from a youth activities program in Kansas City. They ranged in age from five to ten years old and we all had a great time. Our guide was stationed by the Wings of Pride that day and received a lot of questions from them.  They included:

Where do they pump the gas? How much gas does it hold?
Under the right wing. The plane holds up to 7,000 gallons of fuel.
Does it go really fast?
You bet. It can cruise at about 500 miles per hour.
I think I could fit into that space where the wheels fold in.
You could but don't try it now... Or ever! 
Can it fly to New Jersey?
It sure can. Its range is about 2,000 miles.
How heavy is it?
It weighs about 80,000 pounds and that doesn't count people, fuel and baggage!
Can I fly it?
Not quite yet. But if you really want to be up there some day, work hard and do well in school.

We have no doubt that touring the Wings of Pride is an inspiration to our younger visitors and are certain that many leave our museum with their eyes opened widely. It's something that really makes us and TriStar feel pretty good.

The left main gear wheel well.  Please don't try this, kids.


TWA and Douglas
From the first DC-9-14 delivery in 1966 to the final TWA flight in 2001, the DC-9 family of aircraft played a large role in TWA history. TWA flew six "series" of the aircraft, including the Boeing 717. TWA's special relationship began when Donald Douglas answered TWA President Jack Frye's famous letter of 1932, agreeing to develop what became the DC-1 (leading to the DC-2 and DC-3). In almost 70 years thereafter, TWA flew over 100 Douglas (and McDonnell Douglas) airplanes.  While both companies are no longer part of commercial aviation, their histories remain legendary.


From the first to the last. The DC-9-10 series (top) was flown by TWA from 1966 to 1980. Below it, the Boeing 717 saw TWA service from 2000 to 2001. Several DC-9 family models and a number of other Douglas aircraft models can be seen at our museum.



An Interesting Fact
Pictures of the Wings of Pride during TWA's final years raise the question: Why does the Wings of Pride carry a different livery than that displayed at the museum today?  The answer: Just a few years before the acquisition by American Airlines, TWA adopted a new, more stylish livery and began the process of re-painting its existing fleet, eventually reaching the Wings of Pride. While the livery was new, the Wings of Pride was not forgotten, as a graphic banner and emblem appeared on each side of the aircraft. 

The Wings of Pride, showing its updated livery, in St. Louis. Note the unique identification banner on top and the emblem up front. The picture was taken sometime during 2000-2001,
(Photo courtesy of John Mays - TWA Museum Archives)


On a Final Note
We hope you enjoyed Part I and think you'll find Part II equally interesting. In it, we tell the story of how the aircraft was acquired by TriStar, reborn as the Wings of Pride and flown to its new home at our museum. See below for the link to Part II. On a final note, we take you back a few weeks to a very hot 100+ degree summer day in Kansas City. When our guide was asked about touring the Wings of Pride, he replied, "It might not be a very nice day to walk outside and see the airplane". A visitor then replied, "It's always a nice day to visit an airplane". Well said. Our guide opened the door to the hangar and out to the plane everyone went. While you may not be as adventurous, we hope you'll find a day that works for you to see the Wings of Pride and the many other great exhibits we have to offer at the TWA Museum.    


For Your Information
The Wings of Pride is available for touring during regular museum hours and we make every effort to have it open to our visitors each day. There are, however, days where weather or other factors beyond our control will make the aircraft unavailable. If you're counting on seeing it, we suggest you call us (at 816-234-1011) before heading to the museum, just to be certain it's available that day. This is especially true during the winter, when ramp and/or weather conditions may make the plane inaccessible. Do keep in mind that the museum itself is open all year, Tuesday - Saturday, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM.

Article written by Wayne Hammer and Art Lujin.
Edited by Larry Dingman
Copy editing by Pam Tucker


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