Museum flies dancers into the past

By Sara Coello

Liz Darnell’s first time on an airplane didn’t come with in-flight entertainment and complimentary bags of peanuts. Instead, guides in ‘40s-style zoot suits led her and other guests through the belly of the grounded bomber, showing them where gunmen manned their stations and how the bomb bay doors opened.

That is because her first step inside a plane was into “Madras Maiden,” formerly “Chuckie,” a vintage B-17 overlooking the 27th annual Big Band Hangar Dance at the Vintage Flying Museum in Fort Worth.

On October 21, attendees dressed in their finest suits and wrap dresses to visit Madras Maiden, bid in the silent auction, compete for a best-dressed award, ride in a C-47 and dance to the vintage-style music by local band Dynamic Swing Machine on Oct 21.

“It feels like a time [warp],” Darnell said.

“I really came for the B-17,” attendee Deanne Bronikowski said. “It adds atmosphere.”

The B-17 offered more than just atmosphere. The WWII heavy bomber flew from an airshow for the dance, making it one of the few B-17s still flying. The engine’s roar and, a relic of 1930s technology, is deafening.

“You can’t put that in a display case,” said Bill Gorin, the museum’s operations manager.

Gorin has seen the plane through problems big and small, compounded by the lack of mechanics and parts available for the model. Though they make do by researching the original construction with microfilm, engine overhauls, which Gorin says average around $50,000, are inevitable.

“I think everything happened to us that happened in World War II, except getting shot at,” former owner Charlyn “Chuckie” Hospers said. She and her late husband, William “Doc” Hospers, flew the B-17 as far as Utah and Wisconsin after he bought it for her as a surprise over 30 years ago.

“That plane was my new house, my fur coat, and my diamonds,” Hospers said. “I don’t regret that one bit.”

The Madras Maiden is now owned by the Liberty Foundation. But as the plane’s namesake, Hospers role in its history won’t be forgotten.

“If you’re going to bring home a B-17 with no warning, you better name it after your wife,” curator Sheila Doyle said. “That’s just a given.”

“It’s really incredible to get to go inside and see what it was like for [the original pilots],” three-time attendee Jeff Majors said. Though he is not a regular visitor to the museum throughout the year, after his first time at the Hangar dance, he was hooked.

“This is as close to a victory dance as we’ll get in 2017,” Bronikowski said. “[It’s] small and quaint and sweet.”

Bronikowski has been a museum member for 15 years, and has faithfully attended the annual Hangar Dance in that time.

Bronikowski said she was “part of original air force supporters,” which seems like a natural result of her family’s history. Her grandmother was one of the first World War II operators in Chicago, and other members of her family served as officers in the Navy.

Admiration of their contributions to the country have informed her own patriotism, feminism and character.

“I have a great personal love for this [museum],” Bronikowski said.

Mary Johnson spent the majority of the night enjoying the music from behind a table. As members of the American Legion, she and her husband took advantage of the night to sell bracelets and hand out membership applications for the patriotic veterans’ organization.

“We just love the music,” Johnson said. “It’s just like it used to be [in the 1940s].”

Bronikowski would like to celebrate the virtues of the past more often in everyday life, as well as the everyday customs that brought people together.

“There’s nothing wrong with cloth napkins, damn it,” Bronikowski said.