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Arts & Life

Amelia Earhart's hometown of Atchison, Kansas, will host a new museum about her aviation career

The museum will feature a Lockheed Electra 10-E, the same model Earhart took her final flight in.
Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum
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The museum will feature a Lockheed Electra 10-E, the same model Earhart took her final flight in.

The Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum, set to open in 2023, will trace her career and legacy through interactive, STEM-based exhibits. It will also feature the last known Lockheed Electra 10-E plane, the very model Earhart flew in her final, tragic flight.

As visitors walk into a new Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum, they’ll be met with computer-generated-image (CGI) versions of the famed aviatrix. They’ll also have a chance to try their hand at physics and engineering problems Earhart herself would have faced.

The museum, set to open in 2023, will trace Earhart’s career and legacy through interactive, STEM-based (science, technology, engineering and math) exhibits. It will also feature the last known Lockheed Electra 10-E plane, the very model Earhart flew in her final, tragic flight.

Atchison, the icon’s birthplace, is already rich in Earhart history and attractions. But Allison Balderrama, the museum director, believes the Hangar Museum will bring something new to town, and to Earhart’s story.

“The Birthplace Museum is kind of your traditional historic house museum … You get to walk where Amelia walked and see all the rooms where she grew up, and so that is very much like a piece of her life from her living here in Atchison,” Balderrama said. “Our museum is a lot more focused on her career when she’s an adult and her aviation experiences.”

To drive home the connection between Earhart’s life and her science, each exhibit is interactive.

One example tells the story of young Earhart’s dream of riding a roller coaster after a visit to the World’s Fair in St. Louis. When she returned home, she built her own. Visitors will have the opportunity to plan and design their own roller coaster on a screen after hearing the historical story.

Depending on the participant’s engineering prowess, the test ride will either fail or be successful.

“It’s a little, mini physics lesson to pair with that historical story,” Balderrama said.

The Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum is set to open sometime next year. Pictured is an artistic rendering of the planned building.
Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum
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The Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum is set to open sometime next year. Pictured is an artistic rendering of the planned building.

This is just one example of the exhibits at the museum, which is still under construction.

The programming for this technology will all be done by the museum’s partner, Dimensional Innovations, a Kansas-based experience design firm.

“We’re excited by the opportunity to work alongside the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum and help tell the incredible story of Amelia and her impact on the world of aviation,” said Tucker Trotter, CEO of Dimensional Innovations in a statement. “The museum will be robust with interactive elements, gamified exhibits and educational components that tell of Amelia’s life and the countless individuals she influenced.”

Balderrama said the museum doesn’t yet have an expected number of visitors to the museum. But she knows that school field trips will account for a significant part of the traffic.

Atchison is less than an hour away from Kansas City, Topeka and St. Joseph, so the museum has a wide pool of schools to host.

While school-age children will certainly benefit from the museum, Balderama said there’s something for everyone to get out of a visit. She expects to attract a large number of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, as the hangar museum is actually attached to the airport in Atchison, aptly named Amelia Earhart Memorial Airport.

“They’re going to be able to see things I think they’ll really appreciate,” Balderrama said. “It might be stuff that they already know about aviation, but seeing it in a new light or seeing it in the viewpoint of Amelia’s life.”

Atchison City Manager Amy Finch is excited that the exhibit will draw more folks out to the airport, which she said is nicer than most municipal airports.

The crown jewel and main attraction of the museum will be “Muriel,” the last remaining Lockheed Electra 10-E.

The world’s last Lockheed Electra 10-E plane was brought to Atchison in 2016.
Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum
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The world’s last Lockheed Electra 10-E plane was brought to Atchison in 2016.

During his quest to find Earhart’s lost plane, Bob Ballard (the ocean explorer known for finding the Titanic) made a trip to the hangar to study the plane. His search was unsuccessful, but Balderrama said many enthusiasts still are looking for the lost aircraft.

The Lockheed Electra, built in 1935, was created as commercial air travel started to boom. This model could hold 10 passengers, which was a lot at the time. Balderrama said the technology and demand advanced so quickly during this time that only 14 Lockheed Electra 10-Es were built, as newer models carried 20 or more people.

Earhart’s last flight in 1937 only had herself and a navigator, but the 10 person plane had large enough engines and gas tanks to facilitate her attempted trip around the world.

The model now in Atchison was almost sold for scrap in the 1980s as it had deteriorated, but an Earhart enthusiast bought and restored the plane to match Earhart’s version. The Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation bought the plane in 2016 and carefully transported it from California to Earhart’s hometown.

Once the museum opens, Balderrama said the foundation will apply to become a Smithsonian affiliate, which could help to put Atchison on the radar of more history buffs.

“This museum definitely I think will be influential for people all over the world, and that’s because of Amelia and her story,” Balderrama said.

She also hopes to partner with the other Amelia Earhart museums and exhibits in the community of about 10,000 people to round out the experience.

Finch hopes the museum’s combination of education, history and entertainment will draw all sorts of people and groups to town.

“If we have tours or people coming into town, we certainly hope people will come into town to shop, or fill up with gas,” Finch said. “All of that certainly contributes to Atchison and what we can do here.”

Starting this year, the hangar museum will be a part of the annual Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison. The event is returning after a two-year hiatus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Balderrama said past years have drawn almost 40,000 people in celebration of the famed aviatrix.

“That’s a big weekend for our museum and for the Birthplace Museum as well, so we’re really excited because this is the first year that our museum will be officially, partially, open for the festival,” Balderrama said.

The festival is set for the third weekend in July, aligning with Earhart’s birthday.

Earhart has a history of inspiring women and girls to enter the male dominated field of aviation. It’s Balderrama’s hope that this museum will help young girls and kids to feel inspired to follow their dreams.

“I think that a lot of people, especially girls, who are in school see aviation as a boys’ thing or something that’s unattainable, (or) only for certain people,” Balderrama said. “I’m excited that this museum is going to really show people that it’s attainable. It’s something that you can achieve. It’s something that if you put your mind to it, you’re able to do it just like Amelia did.”

The museum announced in late April it was set to begin exhibit construction after reaching more than $10 million towards its capital campaign goal of $15 million. It has yet to specify an opening date for next year.

This story was originally published on Flatland, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

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