In a rusting World War II hanger on the edge of the runway at the general aviation airport, the B-17 named "Chuckie" sits with its nose pointed out the open doors toward the skies.
The cavernous building makes the plane almost look small, but a single blade from one of the four turboprop engines is taller than an average man. Chuckie was one of the new breed of B-17s equipped with radar.
After the war, Chuckie served as a flying laboratory for electronic equipment until 1959. For the next 20 years, the plane worked in the war against fire ants in Alabama until 1979, when W.D. Hospers and his wife, Chuckie, saved the last Pathfinder-edition of the B-17 from the recycling pile. The Hospers began restoring the plane to its 1944 condition and appearance, although they have not been able to find the radar turret.
When the plane is not thrilling spectators at air shows around the country, it sits comfortably in the oversized hanger. Volunteers, many of whom are World War II veterans, lovingly keep the old ship in flying condition along with the museum's 10 other airplanes.
The museum also has a Stearman PT-17, AT-6, L-5, L-3, Convair, and a Hawker Hunter jet. From the Korean War era, they have two F-86 Sabers. On loan from the Texas Air Command, a T-33 jet that flew over Vietman sits near the front doors. A rare 1955 Piaggio jet sits in another hanger waiting to be restored.
The museum is less a collection of war memorabilia and more an airplane education center. During the week, the museum hosts groups of school children. The two rooms off of the hanger hold a mixture of model historic airplanes and a few artifacts from World War II. On the other side of the hanger is a room of historic airplane engines.
During the summer, the museum hosts free week-long camps for high school students to explore aviation (Registration deadline is April 15.) A similar class is offered to teachers.
On Oct. 11 the museum hosts a 1940s big band dance in the hanger. Their biggest fundraiser of the year, the dance includes a fly-in and car show for $15.
A little over one and a half miles north of the historic stockyard area, the museum is at 505 NW 38th St., off North Main Street. A $3 donation box sits under the nose of the B-17. There is also a small gift shop of flying paraphernalia. The doors are open Saturday, 9am-5pm and Sunday, noon-5pm. Weekday tours are available by appointment at 817/624-1935.
Coming up this weekend...
For information on where to see wildflowers along the backroads, call these numbers:
Brenham and Washington County, 409/836-3695 or 888/BRENHAM.
Cuero and DeWitt County, 512/275-2112 or 512/275-9942.
Highland Lakes Area, 512/973-2803.
La Grange and Fayette County, 409/968-5756 or 800/LAGRANG.
Mason and Mason County, 915/347-5758.
National WildFlower Research Center, 512/832-4059.
Texas Department of Transportation, 800/452-9292.
Tyler and Smith County, 800/235-5712.
Yoakum and Lavaca County, 512/293-2309.
Annual Jamboree happens in Smithville at Riverbend Park, Apr. 3-5. 512/360-2557.
Bluebonnet Festival comes to Kingsland,
Apr. 5. 915/388-6211.
Old Settlers' Bluegrass & Acoustic Music Festival livens up Round Rock, Apr. 4-5. 512/346-1629.
Main Street Arts Festival in Ft. Worth takes over the downtown street leading to the county courthouse, Apr.10-13. 817/336-ARTS.
Texas Brewers Festival visits Dallas' Deep Ellum along Main Street, Apr.19-20.