The Vintage Flying Museum is located at the southeast corner of Fort Worth Meacham International Airport in a historic B-29 hanger. The museum’s primary focus is World War II aircraft with a restored B-17G Flying Fortress, one of only a dozen still flying, being the central subject.

Upon entering the museum through the gift shop you find a display of World War II-era uniforms, including flight jackets, along with displays of model ships and aircraft from that era. The walls are covered with pictures from World War II.

One poster notes: United States cost of the war in the Pacific: 85,000 killed and missing, 185,000 wounded, 30,000 taken prisoner, 200 medals of honor.

Going on out into the main hanger I met Doc Hospers, the owner and operator of the museum. Hospers is very personable and a living encyclopedia of the World War II aircraft.

I wanted to know about the last B-36 built in Fort Worth that had been moved to Arizona some time back, and if they had tried to get it.

“We tried to get the B-36,” he said, “but there is a general who is in charge of the museums that is rather hard to get along with, and he wanted to put it where he wanted it. That’s a shame because we could have had it here. We were all pretty unhappy about that.

“When I came here in the ’60s it was parked at Greater Southwest Airport, and in those days it probably could have been flown for it was still in pretty good shape. There was a big scare on at the time, in the early ’80s, and some idiot in Washington thought that if they flew it from Greater Southwest to Carswell Air Force Base somebody might bomb somebody. They made them tear it completely apart to get it over there, and we all thought that was pure lunacy.”

When asked about the variety of World War II planes, he said, “I’ve tried to get one of every type. I’ve asked around until we can get different types like in back of you is the PT-22 and the fellow who owns it is meticulous about restoring it. The engine has just been rebuilt and he is waiting for a prop to come in. This was one of the primary trainers during the Second World War. We also have a Stearman in the back, which was also a primary trainer. We also have a T6, which was an advanced trainer.

“The Morrisey plane was made by a man named [Bill] Morrisey. This, (pointing to a nearby plane), was the prototype and the company was bought out by two different companies, and they just kept making the plane better. This was the first, so it is kind of unusual.”

Pointing to a small plane hanging from the ceiling nearby, he said, “The plane hanging is a Stinson L5. That was an ambulance airplane. The right side falls down and you can put a stretcher in there. During Vietnam they used it to take the wounded out to the aircraft carrier because that was the only safe place to operate on them.”

Over to one side of the hanger was a rather strange looking twin-fuselage airplane. This was the original prototype of the OV-10 which they used in Vietnam. They were looking for it and went to a junkyard and found it just sitting there and picked it up and rebuilt it. This was the original prototype.

At the back of the hanger was the Italian Piaggio seaplane, called a Royal Gull. When asked about this plane Hospers said, “I had been looking for seaplanes and there just weren’t many of them. I think there are only five or six of these left in the United States. One of the guys up in Lubbock said, ‘Doc, you won’t believe what I just saw.’ I said, ‘What?’ and he said, ‘One of those seaplanes you were looking for.’ So I went up there and asked about it. It was in a divorce proceeding of some kind and I got it cheap. It’s a nice flying airplane.”

Built in Italy, this amphibian was primarily used for air/sea rescue during the Korean War.

In the back corner were two F-86 jets and a T-33, which was our first jet fighter.

The B-17, the pride of the museum, he got in Alabama. “It had been a spray plane for fire ants,” Hospers said. “They decided that they weren’t able to stop the progression of the fire ants so the government canceled all the contracts. When I picked it up it was sitting on the runway with the fabric falling off. I told them that I would pick it up if they would fix the fabric and they did; so we ferried it home. We have been working on it ever since. That was back in ’79. It takes constant maintenance.”

Most of the maintenance on these planes is done by volunteers who come in on the weekends and work. After being down for maintenance for nearly four years, the B-17 was cleared for flight this past May. The B-17 was then flown to the air show “Thunder over Michigan.” Looking over some pictures of this trip on the Internet, I spotted another familiar B-17 with “Sentimental Journey” written on the nose. This plane is part of the Commemorative Air Force stationed in Midland that was at the Cleburne airport a few years back.

A B-25 had just recently been flown in from Cleburne for service. This is the same type airplane that Jimmy Doolittle used to bomb Japan. They took off from an aircraft carrier, which was a job unto itself.

The B-25 was the medium bomber of the same era as the B-17, the heavy bomber. They flew the B-25 and B-26 planes on more of what you call tactical air support where they were trying to support the ground troops, in taking out strong points, bridges.

The B-17 and its stable mate, the B-24, were used in strategic bombing where they flew in large formations to wipe out an oil refinery, a large factory that makes tanks or an ammunition plant. They would take out a whole factory complex or rail yard. These flew high altitude, long missions, up to eight hours. The medium-range bombers generally flew low in the thick of things and attacked the small targets the big ones couldn’t get. They had to get down there and mix it up with the bad guys.

Every time you visit the museum something is different. The B-25 will be there until March. They are doing the annual maintenance on it where they have to check all the engines.

The War-bird Round-Up is held each spring. The tentative date for 2006 is May 13.

In 2006, this will be one of two major fund-raisers for the museum. Plan on spending a day at the airport! There will be free rides for youngsters ages 8-17 with parental consent. Rides will also be offered by Sky Mavs for $25 for adults. There will be lots of planes flying in, fly-bys, and a chance to see and tour “Chuckie,” the B-17G Bomber, named for Doc Hospers’ wife.

In October will be the Big Band Hangar Dance. All of the planes except the B-17 will be moved out of the hanger and the B-17 will be moved to the back of the hanger. A big band will be brought in to play swing dance music for three or four hours. Last year, they had swing dance clubs come from Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and Houston. There were over a thousand in attendance. It’s worth the price of admission just to watch those dancers.

Many of the aircraft here are still flyable and are flown to various air shows around the country. If you are interested in visiting the museum to see any specific plane, it would be wise to call ahead to see if it will be there on the day you plan to visit. You should plan on spending three or four hours looking over the planes and gathering information from the volunteers. The phone number is 817-624-1935.

You can find more information on the special events and see photos of the air show “Thunder over Michigan” on their Web site, www.vintageflyingmuseum.org.



John Watson is a Cleburne

resident who may be reached at texastraveler@sbcglobal.net

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