Rip Gooch, who passed away just over a year ago, is receiving a posthumous recognition.  The Black Aviators Exhibit he championed at the Kansas Aviation Museum in southeast Wichita is being expanded and renamed the Ulysses Lee “Rip” Gooch Black Aviator Exhibit.

The exhibit expansion is just one of several upgrades to the museum announced earlier this week, which include three new exhibits,  and a new theater. 

KAM Executive Director Ben Sauceda said the Black Aviator Exhibit will move to the third floor where the theater currently is, and will have a lot more space. 

“This is an honor members of our family are especially proud of,” said Bonita Gooch, Rip’s daughter and editor-in-chief of The Community Voice.  “Rip was a founding board member of the Kansas Aviation Museum and was one of its longest serving board members.  He was especially proud of the Black Aviators Exhibitor which he rallied behind. For a long time he had hoped to see the exhibit expanded.  He would have been pleased to know the expansion will finally be a reality and honored by the naming recognition.”

Capital Campaign 

Sauceda said the museum, which is housed in the original Wichita Municipal Airport, set out to raise $160,000 in its first capital fund drive in more than a decade. It has passed that goal and set a new one of about $200,000 because construction costs have risen. 

He said the total fund is now at about $175,000 was enough to begin the construction. The new exhibits are expected to open in late February or early March.

Two new exhibits will be housed in the original baggage claim area of the building, an area that has been used for storage since the museum first opened in 1991. That area will house a “Welcome to Wichita” exhibit which will highlight the story of the building, which was the Wichita airport terminal from 1935 to 1954.

Sauceda said the improvements are requiring a lot of construction because all the walls are concrete and can’t be used for mounting exhibits, so new interior walls are going up.

Showcasing history through the stories of people

That area will also house an expanded Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame exhibit. 

Sauceda said he likes to showcase history by telling the stories of the people who lived it, so the three new exhibits, including the expanded Kansas Aviation Hall of Fame exhibit, will have interactive digital features that can be rotated to tell more stories of more people.

The theater, which is now on the third floor, will be given more space on the first floor next to the entrance. 

“That just makes sense because it provides an introduction to the museum,” Sauceda said. “It’s a good way to greet people coming in.”

The new Rip Gooch Black Aviators Exhibit will also be devoted to telling the stories of famous Kansas Black aviators. In addition to Gooch, the great list of Black Aviators in Kansas or with Kansas roots includes Tuskegee Airman George Boyd and Topeka Aviation business-owner James Bolden.  All three of these legends are now deceased.  

Sauceda said he became executive director of the museum last year, shortly before Gooch’s death on Nov. 24, 2021 at the age of 98.

“I had the honor of helping coordinate his memorial service here at the museum,” he said. “It’s an honor to memorialize him through this exhibit.”

Gooch honored as pilot, entrepreneur, leader

Gooch, one of the first inductees into the Black Aviator’s Hall of Fame, is well-known in Wichita not just as a pilot, but as an aviation entrepreneur and a community and state political leader.

He joined the Army during World War II, hoping to join the Air Corp, but didn’t draw that assignment.

After being discharged from the Army in 1946, he used the G.I. Bill to make his dream of becoming a pilot come true. 

His early years of flying included being a stunt pilot, flight instructor, crop duster and charter pilot.

At the suggestion of one of his students, Gooch started his own aviation business, Aero Services at Rawdon Field in 1959. 

Aero Services offered flight instruction, maintenance, aircraft storage, government contracts and was a distributor for Mooney Aircraft, a sporty low-winged aircraft.

He was an FAA designated pilot examiner for 28 years and  for years licensed many Wichitans who were testing for their private pilots license.  Along the way, he accumulated more than 20,000 hours of flying time.

Awards and achievements

He was a member of the Negro Airmen International and a founding member of Black Pilots of America.  He was the Wichita Jayhawks Chapter of BPA president from 1975 to 2021. 

His recognitions were numerous, including being inducted in 2001 into the inaugural class of the National Black Aviation Hall of Fame, being the recipient of the the Wright Brothers Award for “Fifty Year of Continuous flying” in 2009 and the Kansas Trailblazer Award in 2012 

In addition to his long aviation career, Gooch was a Wichita political leader, serving on the Wichita City Council from 1989 to 1993 and in the Kansas State Senate from 1993 until 2004. 

He authored his own autobiography in 2006, Black Horizons.  

  • 1993 – Kansas Governor’s Aviation Honor Award, cited for aviation museum task force and the Kansas Black Aviators Museum.
  • 2001 – Inducted into the National Black Aviation Hall of Fame
  • 2006  – Self-published autobiography “Black Horizons”
  • 2008 – Documentary film “From the Bottom”
  • 2009 – Wright Brothers Award “Fifty Years of Continuous flying”
  • 2012 – Kansas Trailblazer Award from Kansas Aviation Museum
  • 2013 – Kansas Senate Resolution of the formation of the International Black Aerospace Council.

P.J. Griekspoor is a semi-retired veteran journalist with 55 years experience in writing and editing in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wichita.  She spent 18 years at the Wichita Eagle...