Barbie Brunson has been involved with nearly all of the operations at Hicks Airfield (T67) since first learning to fly there in the early 1990s.
As Brunson recounts, she has worn “a lot of hats” over the years. One of the more memorable exchanges between her and her husband, Kevin occurred shortly after they purchased the airport’s fuel operations in 1995.
“In addition to running the restaurant at Hicks for 15 years, we had this old 1970 Ford fuel truck that held a thousand gallons, with a straight six and a huge steering wheel that was probably bigger than any extra-large pizza that you’d ever order! My husband bought it for me. He said, ‘You’ve got the automated pumps here, and people can buy fuel 24/7. But if you ever got someone that has a larger plane, why don’t you get checked on driving the truck. That way, you can drive to the ramp and fill up their airplanes.”
“I’m like, ‘I can probably do that!’ I started delivering fuel to the ramp, and pilots loved that service. You might catch me on any given day in the restaurant taking orders or helping put stuff together for food deliveries, to changing out a fuel filter or checking out something with the fuel farm. To possibly even installing a water meter or backflow, because we are the water utility as well,” she said.
All of Brunson’s efforts at the airfield mirror that of her initial inspiration in general aviation, her father, Dr. Anthony Ziegler. When she was a girl growing up in rural Missouri, he created a small grass airstrip that became popular within the flying community—primarily due to the communal environment that was cultivated there. His zeal for aviation ultimately transferred to Barbie, whose bubbly personality and can-do attitude are a shining light at Hicks Airfield.
These skills allowed Brunson to identify and solve a problem that airport visitors frequently had; where to keep their plane and where they should stay themselves.
“Pilots used to call me all the time, since we are the FBO on the field, saying that they are flying into Fort Worth and need a place to keep their airplane for a few days. I didn’t have a hangar for them! I had outside ramp space in a grassy lot just northwest of the restaurant building, but nowhere for them to stay. Then they would ask where the nearest hotel is, and I would help make those arrangements as well,” she explained.
“I told my husband that if we could buy the other half of this duplex hangar [where the couple keep their two aircraft], it would make so much sense, because I could put my own Airbnb in there. That way, when pilots need a place to put their plane, they would have a place to stay right next to their airplane. That’s how The Hangar Lodge started its existence.”
With a quick sketch in hand, Barbie set out to make the vision of an on-airport short-term rental come to life.
“It took me nearly a year putting the project together, because I GC’d [served as the general contractor] myself. I literally sketched out the idea for The Hangar Lodge on a piece of paper. Then I had my really crafty nephew, who knows how to do all that CAD work, turn it into something with dimensions that the crew could work from. The project really took off from there.”
The 45-foot by 50-foot hangar is the centerpiece of the building and was purposely designed to accommodate most aircraft that could land on the airport’s 3,740-foot-long asphalt runway. At the rear of the structure is the two-story residential quarters, which boasts two private bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms.
“You see a little bit of everything and anything out here at Hicks, as far as hangar design and creations. I just decided that when I did my project, I wanted it to be somewhat timeless. And I was thinking a Craftsman style, to me, doesn’t seem dated. I think that it always has a good look and feel. It’s kind of like a homey concept, and that’s why I chose to do that. There’s not another Craftsman-style place that I’ve seen out here. I had a lot of fun with it!”
Barbie is proud to report the project has proven successful thus far, with a diverse set of guests having stayed there since opening in December 2019. As positive word about the rental spread, so did questions about using the hangar for alternate purposes.
“I think we are kind of like the best-kept secret out there, but slowly word of mouth about it has gotten out. I had intended The Hangar Lodge to be for pilots because I was thinking that people would be flying in, buying fuel from us, maybe eating at our restaurant (Wing It Cafe), and stuff like that. Then it turned into a different direction that I hadn’t been planning on,” Brunson said.
“People would contact me and say that they just saw us advertised on Facebook, Instagram, or wherever and ask if we have ever hosted a wedding, a rehearsal dinner, or a baby shower. I thought that those events could be interesting, so I said, ‘What do you have in mind? Yeah, we can provide all the tables and chairs. We can do this, and we can do that. I let the customer dictate to me what they were looking for, and then I made it happen. Now I have turned into a little wedding planning operation and have had pilots that want to get married in the hangar!”
Brunson doesn’t mince any words, when explaining how enjoyable it’s been to run the “one-of-a-kind lodging destination.” And if it weren’t for another conversation early in her and her husband’s tenure at Hicks Airfield, then she may have never added ‘short-term rental host’ to her hat rack.
“At the time , there was only one taxiway and probably 30 hangars on the field. That was it. There was literally a cow pasture to the east side of my office, and a barbed wire fence. On occasion, a cow would get loose and get onto the runway. And we would have to chase it back to the farmer’s property next door. Hicks Airfield was out in the middle of nowhere and my husband said, ‘Okay, this area is not going to grow for years, Barbie. This [getting the restaurant] is kind of crazy,” she recalled.
“And I said, ‘No. You know what? Build it and they will come! I know people. This area will grow. This airport will get bigger. Let’s just do it.’ I had so much fun with it, and it turned out to be a really good deal.”