The History of the Aircraft Hangar

Although there is some debate about the exact source of the word “hangar”, it’s thought to come from the French word “hanghart” which means “enclosure near a house”. Other definitions of its meaning include “outbuilding” and “cattle pen”.  The first examples of hangars being used took place during the early days of aviation history.

Since then, top hangar designers like Rubb, REIDsteel, and Banyan have revolutionised the industry. They have helped to develop the impressive aircraft hangars that we see today.

Early days of the aircraft hangar

One story that helps to explain the early history of aircraft hangars is about aviation pioneer Louis Bleriot. He is said to have crash landed in his plane in France early in the 1920s. At this point, he used a steel cattle pen owned by a farmer to house his damaged plane. He is said to have been impressed by the pen, causing him to contact the makers REIDsteel to construct three “hangars” for his aircraft.

This may have been the first use of steel aircraft hangars. However, the Wright brothers used a hangar style wooden shed to house their aircraft “Kitty Hawk” on Kill Devil Hills as early as 1902-1903. As aircraft became more commonplace so hangars became a necessity. They help to keep aircraft safe and reliable and are at the centre of any successful airline.

 

Early hangars in Australia

One of the earliest commercial uses of aircraft hangars happened in Australia after The Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Limited (Qantas) was registered in 1920. Qantas is one of the earliest commercial airlines in the world and its first hangar was constructed in 1921. In 1922, a new larger hangar was built after the company secured a mail service contract.

This new hangar was on the site of the new aerodrome which was east of the town of Longreach. The hangar had a tubular steel frame with a cladding of galvanised iron and cost £1,637 to build. It originally had a dirt floor, but this was replaced with concrete after the town was connected to the water supply in 1924. An early Qantas hangar can still be seen today, at the Qantas Founders Museum.

The changing face of hangars

There have been many developments in aircraft technology since the days of the early hangars. The aircraft that they house have also grown in size and complexity. This has led to a need for increased hangar size and more sophisticated layouts.

For example, aircraft now have more components and subsystems that need to be maintained and repaired. This means that hangars have had to be developed to contain different maintenance areas. They also need to be big enough to contain equipment such as cranes and sophisticated work docks that can accommodate different types of aircraft.

As the need for hangar space has increased so many airlines have enlisted the services of third-party Maintenance and Repair Organisations (MROs) to complete maintenance and repair work. These MROs have hangars that are specifically designed to optimise the efficiency of their processes. This means that over recent years hangars have been developed to deal with automated processes such as parts delivery and storage.

Modern aircraft hangar construction 

It’s not just the features of aircraft hangars that have changed since the early days. There have also been developments when it comes to construction materials. Initially, metal commercial hangars were made using steel-clad portal frame construction. This meant that they were spacious enough to accommodate large machinery as well as maintenance and office spaces.

These traditional hangars are still common today. However, there has been a significant move to using steel-framed and tensile roof hangars. There are several advantages to this design choice including fast construction, low maintenance costs, durability, and increased use of natural light.

No matter which materials are used, there are several designs of aircraft hangar in use today including:

  •       Freestanding hangars for single aircraft.
  •       Consecutive hangars which house several aircraft in a row.
  •       Back to back hangars where aircraft are housed back to back in rows.
  •       T-hangars which provide more efficient storage for several aircraft.

The use of hangars has certainly come a long way since Louis Bleriot first stored his aircraft. However, despite all the advancements, the main purpose is the same; to protect aircraft and keep them in good repair.

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