Unquestionably, Amelia Earhart has left an indelible mark on aviation. Known for a number of aviation feats, not limited to being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, the famed aviator’s triumphs inspire pilots (and future pilots) nearly a hundred years later.
And for almost as long as she’s been a household name, the celebration of her legacy has originated in the small northeastern Kansas town of Atchison, Earhart’s birthplace. Presently, the town of 10,000 boasts the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum (owned and operated by The Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots, of whom Earhart was a founding member and first president), and the annually-held Amelia Earhart Festival, in addition to a widely accepted naming tradition around town to the famed pilot. But a new homage to the widely known aviator in her hometown is set to officially debut in 2023.
Allison Balderrama, director of the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum, explains how the exhibition site first came about and its purpose. “Our museum was first conceptualized in 2016 and the centerpiece of the museum is Muriel, a 1935 Lockheed Electra 10-E. We acquired that plane in 2016. So, when that plane came into the museum’s possession, when we purchased it, that was sort of the beginning of our whole story. Ever since then, we have been working to build up a museum around the airplane.”
One of 14 ever built, the centerpiece aircraft is special in that regard alone. But Balderrama notes that the aircraft’s importance isn’t limited to this distinction. “Our Lockheed Electra is the last remaining plane that is identical to Amelia’s Lockheed 10-E, the plane that she disappeared with on her around the world flight. Our organization was aware that this plane existed and was the last one, so when it went out for sale, we were very interested in purchasing it.”
While certainly one of the more eye-catching aspects of the museum’s planned footprint, the aircraft isn’t the only facet expected to draw visitors in and teach them about aviation.
Balderrama explains, “The museum was conceptualized as a hybrid history and science museum. So, all of the exhibits we worked on with Dimensional Innovations, who is our design and build firm, are really focused on both Amelia’s history and interactive STEM components. We have a lot of interactive things that teach you about airplanes and how airplanes work, as well as the science behind things that Amelia Earhart did and things like that. I think that every person that comes to the museum will learn something new.”
Inside the Museum
An in-depth walk through, or rather “fly through,” of the museum’s anticipated layout can be seen here.
Some planned exhibits, which were professionally designed to be highly engaging for all ages, set to surround the static “flight-worthy” twin include:
- Careers in Aviation
- Amelia’s quote, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it,”- is prominently displayed in this exhibit and is an inspirational tip to visitors.
- Skybreakers: The History of Flight
- Aircraft and Feminine Feats
Aside from being an all-encompassing look at Earhart’s life and legacy, perhaps what is most unique about the museum is the fact that it’s a true fly-in and fly-out space. The site is accommodating to those wanting a quick peek during a fuel stop, as well as those looking to go out of their way to learn more about aviation history.
“We are in a really unique position where our museum is located in the same building as the airport terminal here in Atchison. It’s the Amelia Earhart Airport (K59), as well. And that’s just a cool opportunity for pilots to fly in, not only to see this unique aircraft but also to experience the museum. When we have pilots fly in, even now before the museum is open, they talk about how they will fly to another airport just to grab a hamburger or to grab an ice cream. So having this huge museum and being able to come and see it by flying will be really special for them.”
Angie Cairo, K59’s operations manager, further elaborates on how the museum co-occupies some space at the airport, in addition to having its own hangar footprint. “The foundation felt that since we had taken possession of her sister plane that the perfect home for it was the airport. So, they approached the City of Atchison with the plan for the shared building. We share space as far as the conference room, bathrooms and kitchen. We work together on different projects that promote the airport and the museum and share all of the [terminal] building for those events.”
Even with construction of the museum’s exhibits ongoing for quite a while, Cairo additionally notes that the future popularity for the site quickly became apparent.
“The museum is already attracting visitors. We coordinate together so that they are open during the airport’s annual events. There are so many Amelia Earhart fans throughout the world and this museum with its interactive displays and the duplicated voice of Amelia, are a must-see I believe. Plus, Muriel gives a true perspective of the plane Amelia was flying.”
Balderrama adds that while the museum is currently in its construction phase, with exhibits being installed, its completion is expected soon. A grand opening for the Amelia Earhart Museum is set for 2023.