A farmer unloads equipment and supplies that were flown in by a pilot directly to the farmer’s home.
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Daily Leader
The airplane was invented in the early 1900s by the Wright Brothers, and just a few years after that, aircraft was invented to assist farmers.
The first known aerial application of agricultural materials was by John Chaytor, who in 1906 spread seed over a swamped valley floor in Wairoa, New Zealand, using a hot air balloon with mobile tethers. Aerial sowing of seed has continued on a small scale.
Now, Liberal’s Mid-America Air Museum is looking to develop an exhibit centered around the heritage of aviation in American agriculture.
Museum director Jim Bert said the exhibit will feature a couple of themes, and included in it will be the International Flying Farmers group.
“We’re going to focus on the American farm family,” he said. “The International Flying Farmers put tremendous value on the farm family. You can’t tell one story without telling the other.”
Bert said a section of the exhibit will be dedicated to the science of agriculture.
“In each of these themes, we’re going to be marrying it to the school curriculum if we can to make sure it’s compatible,” he said. “The other part we’re going to do is aerial application or the history of crop dusters.”
Bert said MAAM already has a Quail Commander, a crop dusting aircraft on hand for the exhibit.
“It’s in great condition,” he said. “We have a Luscombe, which was allegedly designed for farmers by farmers. That’s the story we’re going to tell. It’s a great American story. It’s an important story to tell.”
Bert said the exhibit should be open by 2012 or 2013.
“It depends on what point we decide to define our 25th anniversary,” he said. “It’s going to be in cooperation with the International Flying Farmers. We’re still trying to nail that down.”
Bert said MAAM officials are asking area farm families to share their stories, particularly those of flying farmers.
“We’re looking to have some focus groups to talk about the themes we’re going to put in the exhibit to make sure we tell their story,” he said. “This isn’t going to be researched somewhere in New York. This is going to tell the true story, their story, and we want them to be part of it.”
Bert said he is looking for some leadership, some farmers and ranchers and their wives to come forward to help with the organization of the exhibit.
“Help host some of these groups that we’ll meet and talk with about what should go in the exhibit,” he said. “I’m looking for folks to make sure I tell the right story.”
Bert said the idea for the exhibit was kind of serendipity.
“I found stuck away in the Skyhawk hangar across the way the Quail Commander crop duster aircraft, and it was just like it was forgotten over there,” he said. “I almost found it the same day I got to meet a guy named Jack Jenkinson. He is a farmer and a past president of the International Flying Farmers. Because the Flying Farmers had lost their lease on their headquarters building in Wichita, they were looking for a place to keep their heritage.”
Bert said Jenkinson knew of MAAM, and he brought the items from Wichita to Liberal rather than disposing of them.
“I’d never heard of the Flying Farmers,” Bert said. “I looked into it a little bit, and I knew that nobody was telling the story of crop dusting. Here all of a sudden we had it, and that’s what’s made America and this area great – its agricultural business community. What a great story to tell.”
This is when Bert said he started trying to put the idea for the exhibit together.
“I also need area crop dusters, aerial applicators who would like to be part of this to come and talk with me and make sure I tell their story right,” he said. “It’s an exciting story, and we’re going to tell it.”
Bert said the Quail Commander is a perfect example to tell the story of aviation in agriculture.
“We have so much of the Flying Farmers’ history and heritage here – some of their records, their documents, their awards, the material that makes for telling a story in a museum,” he said.
Planning for the exhibit started in November of 2009, according to Bert.
“That’s when the idea kind of germinated,” he said. “I had a chance to meet with Jack Jenkinson and the new president of the Flying Farmers, Gene Shore, around Ulysses and their wives, Janet and Della. We just started putting this idea together, and the more I looked at it, the more I thought this is a real winning important American story to tell.”
To help with the cost, the MAAM Foundation donated a significant grant to develop the graphic design and some of the language used in the brochure and to develop a Web site. Bert said the design of the exhibit is his though.
As to what the exact cost of the display will be, Bert said he has not yet nailed down a figure, and he is looking for donations.
“At that point, we’ll go ahead and announce our campaign goal and do a timeline and a campaign committee,” he said.
Bert said overall, the museum is looking for interest and support from the community.
“We want to tell the story right,” he said. “We’ll begin a fund drive to support this project. It’ll be a national level fund drive. Exhibits go through three stages – planning, fundraising and building. We’re getting close to the end of one, and we’re getting ready to start number two.”