When visiting our museum, you can't help but notice the large number of TWA airplane models on display. One day, our guide decided to get to know them. By the time he was finished, he had a list numbering almost 200! With list in hand, he began asking questions and quickly realized that more than a few have very interesting stories to tell. From the very large, to the very small, to the somewhat unusual, we think you'll enjoy meeting some of them. We also think you'll agree there's much more here than meets the eye.  

Model Terminology
First, some background. For the purpose of our discussion, we'll divide our models into three general categories:

Scale models:
These are the most numerous in the museum and are proportional to the real thing. We explain this proportion as a ratio or fraction. For instance, a 1:100 scale model means every unit of measurement of the model represents 100 similar units of the real airplane. The relationship can also be expressed as a fraction, such as 1/100 scale. Good scale models (of which we have many) maintain precise proportions for every feature of the airplane and show these features (including graphics) in excellent detail. Some of our models do not indicate a stated scale but appear proportional. In that case, we'll also consider them as being in scale. 

Toys may or may not resemble scale, but do bear some sense of identity to a real aircraft. Built primarily to be played with, they often feature moving parts (manually or battery powered). Most in our collection are metal and were manufactured 40-50 years ago. We have an exhibit dedicated to these toys and it's quite something. We'll talk more about it in the article.

These are models that have no scale or proportion to the real thing. Still, they do have a resemblance to the airplanes they represent. In our collection, you can find representations on key chains, ashtrays, lapel pins, etc. Some can get quite artistic, to say the least.

The Most and The Least
It's no surprise that TWA's more well-known aircraft have the most models representing them. At the top of our list is the Boeing 747. We have 14 scale models of this signature TWA airplane, as well as a handful of representations and toys. The largest? A 1/24 scale model measuring 9.5 feet in length. Greeting visitors right in the center of our main gallery, it commands attention not only due to its size but also its "cutaway" transparent sides that give you a good look at the entire interior of the aircraft. TWA took delivery of its first 747-131 aircraft on December 31, 1969. Our model clearly reflects that era, from its vibrantly-colored seat upholstery to the upper-deck first class lounge, accessed by spiral stairs.

Top: Our 1:24 scale 747 model has a definite presence in our main gallery.
Below: Thirsty? A close-in peek at the model's upper-deck first class lounge.

Our model itself has quite a story. It initially resided in TWA's London ticket office at Piccadilly Circus. When it no longer represented TWA's 747 exterior livery and interior configuration, it was sent back to the U.S., where it was given by TWA to a travel agency, in Chicago. Eventually, it was discarded. Luckily, a passerby spotted the tail sticking out of a dumpster and called an acquaintance who was a TWA ticket agent. The agent contacted our museum and over to Kansas City came this magnificent model.  Look closely and you'll find some scratches and a small crack, likely inflicted by the dumpster. Since taking possession, we have given it a lot of tender loving care and are proud to share it with our visitors.

On the other side of the popularity contest are a few aircraft that have only one model representing them. Coincidentally, one is a 1:100 scale model of the Boeing 747 SP. TWA operated three SP aircraft from 1980 to 1986. The SP, built specifically for extended range (up to 7,500 miles) featured a fuselage shortened by 50 feet (compared to the full-sized 747). It offered the same upper-deck dimension and fuselage width as its bigger brother. That upper deck, sitting atop a shortened fuselage, was quite prominent. To make things a bit more unusual looking, aerodynamics required the 747 SP to have a larger and taller tail. Interestingly enough, the disparity in the number of models in our museum extends somewhat to the real world, as Boeing manufactured only 45 747 SP aircraft while the number of full-sized 747s built numbers over 1,500 (and still counting). Our sole SP model sits atop a case, overlooking the aforementioned 747-131 model. So, when you're at the museum, give a wink to the SP. It does get lonely up there.

Show it some love. Our lone model of TWA's 747 SP.

From Owner to Donor
Some of our donated models have a personal connection to our volunteers and staff.  We have a total of seven Boeing 727 scale models in our museum, but one is special, as it was the property of volunteer Ray Rowe. In his 25 years of flying with TWA, Captain Rowe flew the 727 for 14 years. The 727-231 model he donated was a surprise gift from his family upon his retirement in 1990. Ray's involvement in our museum is also a family affair. Our museum exhibits TWA and aviation-related artwork painted by his son, Doug (a variety of Doug's prints are available in our gift shop), while Ray's daughter, Pam, helps to edit our blog.

"I really enjoyed flying the 727." Ray with his donated model. 

For a period of time during her 32-year career with TWA, Flight Attendant Janet Lhullier served on a company-wide improvement committee. In appreciation, TWA gave her a Wings of Pride MD-83 scale model. Now a volunteer in our gift shop, Janet graciously donated her model to the museum. The model is one of ten DC-9/MD83 aircraft on display in our museum. 

Janet poses with the Wings of Pride award she donated to the museum.

For the whole story behind the scale model of TWA's Lockheed Electra 12A, talk with Karen Holden Young. A member of our museum's Board of Directors, Karen is the granddaughter of Paul Richter, one of TWA's three founders. TWA flew an Electra 12A aircraft during the 1940s, using it for test and research flying, including high-altitude flight and wing de-icing. During its time with TWA, Paul Richter sometimes flew the aircraft as well. About sixty years later, Ruth Richter-Holden (Paul Richter's daughter and Karen's mom) received a call from the owners of that very airplane, seeking some background information in preparation to sell it. During the call, Ruth recalled her dad's flights in the aircraft, especially those on which she rode along. Before the call ended, Ruth offered to buy the airplane and remains its owner to this day. To celebrate the family's ownership of the airplane, a one-of-a-kind model (made of wood and hand-painted) was acquired. Known by its initials "LE" (but you can call her "Ellie"), the model of this historic aircraft can be seen today in the museum's Founders Room, on the desk once used by Jack Frye, one of TWA's co-founders and its first president.

Karen Holden-Young, spending some time with "Ellie". 

A Man and His Plane
In June 2015, museum volunteer Dennis McCarthy got his first look at the five-foot long scale model of the classic TWA L-1011. It was not a pretty sight. Dirty and scratched, its wings were bent and Dennis is pretty sure it had been dropped (at least once). The transparent "cutaway" plastic panels on the left side were either missing or were a mess and quite frankly, what he saw on the inside wasn't very appealing either. Dennis, being a pretty handy guy, accepted the task of completely renovating the model and off to his basement workshop it went. After ten months and 600 man-hours of work, he returned it to the museum.

A job well done! Dennis' restored L-1011.

The museum displays six scale models of the L-1011, but our guide always takes the time to point out this one and to share some interesting facts about Dennis' amazing effort. For instance:
  • Each passenger seat (there are almost 200) was repainted. Dennis experimented with a few paints before finding one that effectively covered the felt-like material used for the original seats. The plastic arm rests and seat bottoms were also repainted.
  • Each lavatory was re-structured with new wall and ceiling material. He even fabricated some of the missing pieces of the tiny fixtures within each lav. 
  • The material Dennis used for the cutaway windows is Lexan, a type of rigid, clear plastic. Hours of trial and error led to Dennis finally figuring out how to heat it so that it could be shaped and applied properly. If you're interested in trying this at home, simply preheat your oven to 275 degrees and bake your Lexan sheet for five minutes. Take it quickly from the oven to your fuselage and work fast (before it hardens) to get it to conform to the size of each opening. Secure into place. Tip from Dennis, "Buy a lot of Lexan!"
  • The original interior lighting system was a jumble of wires. Dennis re-wired and re-illuminated the entire aircraft (interior and exterior), including the usage of new LED lights. They stay cool and should last a very long time. That's good because Dennis has no plans to replace a bulb. Ever.
There's much more that can be told, but we think you get the idea. Dennis commented that when he looks at his work, he can still "smell the fiberglass dust." But, he'll tell you (and we know you'll agree) the result was well worth it. Dennis also wants to thank his wife, Janet, for her moral support and tolerance during his more frustrating evenings with the airplane. We thank you too, Janet.

He's smiling now! Dennis stands proudly next to his work.

He's Not Just Toying Around
A member of our museum's Board of Directors, John Mays recalls the first TWA-branded toy he bought at a flea market in 2001. He never stopped. The result of this most interesting hobby is on display in our museum. Our John Mays Toy Collection case numbers over 50 items. In addition to TWA-branded airplanes, the collection includes cars, trucks and service vehicles. John says branding toys with the TWA logo was a win-win for the toy maker and TWA. The TWA logo provided instant recognition and attraction to the toy, and the young owners of the toys got to know the TWA brand (hopefully influencing mom and dad to choose TWA for future trips).

Top: John's toy collection on display at the museum.
Bottom: John poses with a motorized Cragston DC-7.

Most toys in John's collection are made of metal and date back 40-50 years. His interest in TWA goes back to his days as a frequent passenger, with his business travel often booked on TWA. Today, John's duties include those of our museum's librarian and historian. His collection at the museum includes some rare toys, including a Cragston DC-7c, manufactured in Japan. This battery-operated toy "taxis" with its propellers spinning and beacon flashing. Fully motorized (and with no type of remote control), it takes a momentary pause in its journey to do something pretty neat. John removed the Cragston from the case and fired it up for us. The result is the following video we think you'll like:


Some That Weren't
In his adventures around the museum, our guide discovered some scale models that had a TWA livery but were never flown by TWA. Typically, such models were presented to TWA by the manufacturer to generate interest or acknowledge an order. Sometimes, TWA itself would purchase models to get employees and passengers enthused about future aircraft. Of all such planes on our guide's list, a seven-foot-long model of a TWA Concorde SST attracts the most attention and is prominently displayed in our main gallery. You can learn more about the model and the aircraft itself by reading our blog article: TWA'S CONCORDE SST - THE PLANE THAT NEVER WAS. A similar "ordered but never delivered" story accompanies our scale model of a TWA Airbus A318. In 1998, TWA placed a major order with Airbus Industries for 50 A318 and 25 A320 "family" aircraft. The first eleven A318s were scheduled to be delivered in 2003. An Airbus aircraft in TWA colors would never be, as American Airlines acquired TWA in 2001.

Perhaps the most unusual TWA model of a plane that was not to be is a Lockheed C-5 cargo plane, on display in our library. In the mid-1960s, Lockheed pitched using the C-5 transport as a TWA freighter. We believe the model was presented to TWA by Lockheed. TWA didn't go with the idea. We're not certain how many of these models were made, but we have one of them and it's quite a rare sight.

Three that weren't:
Concorde SST, Airbus A318 and Lockheed C-5.

Rounding Out The Count
As our guide often tells visitors, "There's much more I could show you and talk about, but you'd end up missing your family." And so it is with our models. We can, however, throw a few additional facts and figures at you. In addition to the aforementioned Boeing 747, other aircraft that have numerous scale models representing them at our museum include the Lockheed Constellation (13 models), Boeing 707 (9 models), Douglas DC-3 (7 models) and, interestingly enough, the Concorde SST (6 models). Bigger is not necessarily better, as our models vary tremendously in size from the 9.5-foot- long Boeing 747 scale model to a two-inch scale model of a Lockheed Constellation. Speaking of the Connie, of the thirteen on display, one is in its own case (shown below), commemorating the first Constellation ever to fly non-stop, coast-to-coast.

Also in the case is the original navigator's log from the flight (flown April 17, 1944). As seen in the upper right-hand corner, the co-captains on this historic flight were TWA President Jack Frye and owner Howard Hughes.

Not to be overlooked in our model round-up are the "representation" models. While they do resemble TWA aircraft, they make no claim for accuracy in scale or proportion. Whenever our guide's attempts at humor fail to elicit a reaction from our visitors, a look at some of these representations often will do the job. We have a few scattered around for your enjoyment. Below are a couple:

A 747 lapel pin and a Stratoliner ashtray are among our group of representations.

On A Final Note
Many of our models come to us thanks to a number of people who, many years ago, had an interest in displaying TWA's history. Among the first was Tom Perry, who was an instrument technician at TWA's Overhaul Base, located at Kansas City International Airport. In the early 1960s, Tom started a collection of TWA models and other memorabilia. Fellow employees contributed as well. As the collection grew, a case was built to display them in the base's cafeteria (we continue to use that case at our museum today, as seen in the picture below). In 1985, retired TWA Flight Attendant Marie Trainer, realizing the historic value of the collection, formed the TWA Museum, a chapter of the Platte County, Missouri Historical Society. In the following years, the museum would move from the Overhaul Base and display parts of its (continuously growing) collection at a number of nearby locations, including the TWA Credit Union headquarters and the KCI Exposition Center. Today, we are the fortunate inheritors of many pieces (including some models) from this evolution. Our collection is still growing and we continue to expand the space in which to display it, in our current location at 10 Richards Road. We hope you'll get the chance to stop by to see our models, and much more!

For Your Information
Our winter maintenance is over and we're open again, effective February 14, 2017. We've done some expanding, updating and rearranging. We think you'll like the changes and hope you'll get the chance to come by and see us soon! 

Article written by Wayne Hammer
Edited by Larry Dingman
Final copy editing by Pam Tucker

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