New Exploration Place Exhibit Gives Hands-On Look Into Airplane Manufacturing

Dec 1, 2017

A new exhibit at Exploration Place gives visitors a chance to be the aviation industry’s most vile villain: the airline seat designer.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a way to add more leg room. And the news isn't any better for the seat itself.

"The less comfortable, the more safe it might be," says Christina Bluml, director of marketing at Exploration Place. "Sorry, everybody!"

The interactive exhibit, titled "Design Build Fly," opens to the public on Saturday. It includes less sinister activities, such as virtually painting airplane parts, repairing a wing, and learning how a plane’s toilet works. The exhibit is designed to give visitors a hands-on look into airplane manufacturing.

"The closest experience I had to this when I was a child was driving the tractor on the farm and running it into a barn," says Lisa Wininger, an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow with NASA. She recently visited the exhibit during an educator open house to encourage teachers to bring their students for a visit.

NASA provided a grant to Exploration Place that helped pay for the exhibit.

"It is out on the edge of what we should be doing with education and STEM work in the United States," Wininger says.

Lisa Straw virtually paints around an airplane window.
Credit Stephan Bisaha / KMUW

At one station in the exhibit, Lisa Straw and Rebecca Janssen, both second-grade teachers at Cloud Elementary, work together to move a miniature plane fuselage using a crane. It's controlled by what look like video game controllers. While struggling to maneuver the crane, both teachers reluctantly agree it makes them appreciate their students' gaming prowess.

"Do I want to encourage them to be playing video games? No. I’d much rather they be reading,” Janssen says. But she would settle for her students applying their controller skills at the museum.

"This would be great,” she says. "They can come to Exploration Place and practice this."

Principal Lura Jo Atherly from Jardine STEM and Career Explorations Academy became convinced to bring her students after walking through the museum.

"It’s hard to provide these kind of experiences, especially for middle school kids, where it’s fun but it’s also serious," Atherly says. "There’s a little bit of, ‘I can maybe do this for a career. People really make money doing this?'"

And that’s one of the main goals of Design Build Fly — inspiring Wichita’s next generation of aviation workers.

"Our whole goal is workforce development," says Jan Luth, president of Exploration Place. "It’s very critical that we have the next generation of aviation workers developed here in the Wichita area to keep these businesses here."

"It's very critical that we have the next generation of aviation workers developed here in the Wichita area to keep these businesses here."

That’s likely what motivated the dozens of organizations that donated to the exhibit, including Cessna, Bombardier, Boeing and Airbus. NASA also provided a grant for the exhibit. During the five years since the conception of Design Build Fly, the museum raised about $2.5 million for the exhibit, according to Luth.

Design Build Fly replaces Exploration Place’s previous aviation exhibit, which had been around since the museum's opening 17 years ago. That exhibit explored the physics of flights, while the new exhibit focuses on modern airplane manufacturing. The space is designed to look like a factory floor, with detached wings and bisected fuselages spread across the room.

Beyond the interactive stations, Exploration Place is planning additional educational events, such as family nights, summer camps and a program matching aviation workers with students interested in specific careers.

"This exhibit becomes the springboard for us to do a tremendous amount," says Luth. "People will come back over and over again and we’ll have lots of different programs to support it."

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