As visitors enter a new Amelia Earhart Hangar museum, they will be greeted with computer-generated image (CGI) versions of the famous aviator. They will also have the chance to try their hand at physics and engineering problems that Earhart herself would have faced.
The museum, slated to open in 2023, will trace Earhart’s career and legacy through interactive exhibits based on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). It will also feature the last known Lockheed Electra 10-E aircraft, the very model Earhart flew on his tragic last flight.
Atchison, the birthplace of the icon, is already rich in Earhart history and attractions. But Allison Balderrama, the museum’s director, thinks the Hangar Museum will bring something new to the town and Earhart’s history.
“The Birthplace Museum is kind of like your traditional historic home museum… You can walk around where Amelia walked and see all the rooms she grew up in, so it feels very much like a piece of her life since she was born. ‘She lives here in Atchison,’ Balderrama said. “Our museum is much more focused on her career as an adult and her experiences in aviation.”
To convey the connection between Earhart’s life and his 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 St. Louis World’s Fair. Back 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 technical prowess, the test drive will fail or pass.
“It’s a little mini-lesson in physics to associate with this historic story,” Balderrama said.
This is just one example of the exhibits in the museum, which is still under construction.
Programming for this technology will be done entirely by the museum’s partner, Dimensional Innovations, a Kansas-based experience design firm.
“We are thrilled to have 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 press release. “The museum will be robust with interactive elements, playful exhibits, and educational components that chronicle Amelia’s life and the countless people she influenced.”
Balderrama said the museum has yet to forecast a number of visitors to the museum. But she knows that school trips will represent a significant part of the traffic.
Atchison is less than an hour’s drive from Kansas City, Topeka, and St. Joseph, so the museum has a wide range of schools to accommodate.
While school-age children will certainly benefit from the museum, Balderama said there is something for everyone to take away from a visit. It expects to attract a large number of pilots and aviation enthusiasts, as the hangar museum is actually attached to Atchison Airport, the aptly named Amelia Earhart Memorial Airport.
“They’re going to be able to see things that I think they’ll really enjoy,” Balderrama said. “It may be things they already know about aviation, but seeing it in a new light or seeing it from Amelia’s life perspective.”
Atchison City Manager Amy Finch is thrilled the expo is bringing more people to the airport, which she says is nicer than most municipal airports.
The crown jewel and main attraction of the museum will be “Muriel”, the latest Lockheed Electra 10-E.
During his quest to find Earhart’s lost plane, Bob Ballard (the ocean explorer known for finding the Titanic) went to the hangar to study the plane. His search was unsuccessful, but Balderrama said many enthusiasts are still searching for the lost plane.
The Lockheed Electra, built in 1935, was created as commercial air travel began to explode. This model could hold 10 passengers, which was a lot at the time. Balderrama said technology and demand advanced so rapidly during this time that only 14 Lockheed Electra 10-Es were built, with newer models carrying 20 or more people.
Earhart’s last flight in 1937 had only herself and a navigator, but the 10-person plane had engines and fuel tanks large enough to facilitate her attempt to travel around the world.
The model now at Atchison was nearly sold for scrap in the 1980s as it had deteriorated, but an Earhart enthusiast purchased and restored the aircraft to match Earhart’s version. The Atchison Amelia Earhart Foundation purchased the plane in 2016 and carefully transported it from California to Earhart’s hometown.
Once the museum opens, Balderrama said the foundation would apply to become an affiliate of the Smithsonian, which could help put Atchison on the radar of more history buffs.
“I think this museum will definitely be influential for people around the world, and that’s because of Amelia and her story,” Balderrama said.
She also hopes to partner with Amelia Earhart’s other museums and exhibits in the community of about 10,000 people to complete the experience.
Finch hopes the museum’s combination of education, history and entertainment will attract all kinds of people and groups to the city.
“If we have tours or people coming into town, we certainly hope people come into town to shop or fill up on gas,” Finch said. “It all definitely contributes to Atchison and what we can do here.”
Starting this year, the shed museum will be part of the annual Amelia Earhart Festival in Atchison. The event returns after a two-year hiatus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Balderrama said the past few years have drawn nearly 40,000 people to celebrate the famous aviator.
“It’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 scheduled for the third weekend of July, coinciding with Earhart’s birthday.
Earhart has a history of inspiring women and girls to enter the male dominated field of aviation. It is Balderrama’s hope that this museum will help young girls and children feel inspired to pursue their dreams.
“I think a lot of people, especially girls, who are in school see aviation as a boys thing or something that’s out of reach, (or) only for certain people,” Balderrama said. “I’m thrilled that this museum is really going to show people that it’s doable. It’s something you can achieve. It’s something that if you put your mind to it, you’re able to do it like Amelia did.
The museum announced in late April that it was set to begin exhibit construction after hitting more than $10 million toward its $15 million fundraising campaign goal. It has yet to specify an opening date for next year.
This story originally appeared on Flatland, another member of the KC Media Collective.