Doorways to the skies

Aircraft owners who enjoy soaring into the clouds may be some of the most down-to-earth folks when it’s time to park the plane. Or they may be fussy about the hangars that house their dream machines.

There’s room for a range of tastes in hangar design and options.

Hangars that shelter and secure the planes that fuel private pilots’ greatest dreams and fire their imaginations can be luxurious or simple. It’s size, security and a safe structure that matter most.

Take Bob Henry, a pilot and aircraft owner who also is a Wick Buildings dealer in southwest Wisconsin. The nearest town is called Plain and that name pretty much describes Henry’s taste in hangars, too.

Henry houses his Cessna 172 Skyhawk in a modest hangar he built 18 years ago. He doesn’t consider it unique.
“Basically it’s large enough to accommodate the plane and a few extra toys,” he says.

He says his own hanger is still “looking good” and that people often stop by to ask him if they can see it.

He doesn’t consider it fancy or unique, but that, perhaps, is why it appeals to others.

Ultimate toy shed?

Isn’t a private hangar the ultimate toy shed? Well, yes and no. That depends on a number of factors.

A few counties to the northwest, Jason Przybylski recently saw the completion of a hangar that pushes the needle farther up the “ultimate” meter.

This project, which Przybylski designed and drafted, includes living quarters with two bedrooms, full kitchen and bath, and separate vehicle parking stalls. It boasts in-floor heating in the living quarters, and is finished with oak trim and oak car siding.

Przybylski, with a drafting and architectural design degree, has worked for Bauman Construction of Chippewa Falls, Wis., for about five years . While he’s had a good deal of experience in a variety of projects, he’s especially pleased with this particular hangar. “It gets lots of drive-by attention,” he says.

Moving the “wow” needle still higher is  Marshal Parker, whose quest for a hangar on property behind his 18th century home in England led him to purchase not only an American-made hangar door, but to buy HydroSwing, the company that made it.

Parker, restricted by British building codes that limit the height of the hangar to a few feet less than his craft required, discovered that he could satisfy his needs and meet codes with a door that tucked tightly above the hangar. It saved space, reduced building cost, added value and propelled him into a new career.

Reaching a bit higher

Henry agrees that hangars on private land are more likely to get the frills and finishing touches that set them apart from strictly utilitarian buildings standing on leased land at municipal airports.

“People are not going to spend money on the extras to make it pretty” when it’s not on their own property, he says.

Hangars, after all, are pretty basic structures. They need to be just wide enough and just tall enough to accommodate the aircraft’s wingspan and tail height. Clearspan construction, they might be insulated, accommodate a restroom, office space or extra space for other recreational vehicles  — or not.

Henry says a typical footprint is 45 by 45 or even 40 by 40. “The minimum is 40 by 32 feet,” he says, explaining that building the hangar too narrow means that its resale value will likely be limited to owners of small homebuilt aircraft. He recommends that anyone building a new hangar makes it large enough to appeal to a future owner whose plane may be larger than the original owner’s.

Henry recalls discussing the resale option with a prospective client who insisted on minimal sizing for his homebuilt craft. “We couldn’t talk him out of it,” Henry says. “All he wanted was a space big enough to park his plane.”
Henry wasn’t disappointed when he didn’t get the job. He was convinced the owner was making a mistake and would come to regret not building a bit larger. “Some pilots are frugal,” Henry says.

He recalls another client who wouldn’t budge on “extras,” even though the hangar was on the client’s private airstrip. “He wanted a hangar behind his house, but he wanted bare minimums. He kept with a ‘tin box’ style, less expensive.” Henry says he didn’t understand why the client, whom he thought could afford more, wanted to look out of his home’s windows every day and see such a plain hangar in the back yard.

Nevertheless, some decisions fall into the “to each his own” category.

Regardless of its exterior cosmetics or interior finishes, some factors — strength, engineering and structural integrity — are non-negotiable concerns to builders and their customers. 

Make a wall that moves

Parker, the HydroSwing owner who knows his doors, has another concern. Parker calls the door crucial to the building’s ability to be sealed, heated, cooled, secured and made as practical as possible. He advocates using a one-piece hydraulic door as the fourth wall, in effect adding the ability to completely open one side of the building.

He also stresses the need for structural strength, ease of operation, power and simplicity    — all without requiring additional headroom or adding height to the building.

Not only is a movable wall practical in a hangar, where there’s no room for error in settling a plane inside its shelter, it’s also eminently practical in agricultural buildings, where farm equipment is growing larger with each generation.

Another good application for moveable walls, says Parker, is riding arenas that can be designed with one or more massive doors that can be raised completely. Removing the walls brings the outdoors in, adds daylight and natural ventilation and turns an arena into an open-air show facility. A bonus is that partially-raised doors can also provide shade for equestrian event spectators.

While practicality is high on Parker’s priority list, so is being green. “Why build more hangar than you need,” he asks, “if the only reason is to accommodate a bulky door? Hangar height only needs to accommodate the aircraft’s tail height, he explains, stressing that additional headroom required by a folding door adds to initial building costs, raises concerns about future maintenance and boosts heating/cooling costs.

Parker concludes, “It’s all about reducing wastage in a building by not making an opening taller and wider if the only reason is to accommodate an inefficient door.

And it sends the right green message in reducing heating and cooling costs and in the initial building materials cost.”

Living in the toy box

While practicality and simplicity are the hallmarks of many hangars, some people want a bit more.

Przybylski says the hangar with two-bedroom living quarters recently completed by Bauman Construction is designed for a man and his teen-age son. Yet, practicality rules here, too. The owner uses his plane for business, flying car dealership customers to auto auctions.

Key elements of that project, says Przybylski, include columns by Timber Technology and roof trusses from Wisconsin Truss. The post-frame building was finished with all-steel siding and roof panels by ABC and McElroy Metal.

Special challenges included roof lines complicated by the fact that the hangar has 12-foot side walls while the living area has 8- and 9-foot walls and a hipped roof. The hangar sports a 41- by 10-foot Hi-Fold door on the eave side, the same side as the living room.

The building’s overall 42- by 72-foot dimensions are enhanced with overhangs and a wrap-around canopy that shelters outdoor living amenities such as patio furniture and a barbecue grill. While the hangar holds one plane, it has room for a second, and accommodates a vehicle bay.

Be sure to see the companion story, ‘An engineer’s view’

Przybylski says the father-son occupants of the hangar home were all set to move into the building.

Bauman Construction currently is working on an addition to a terminal at the airport at Rice Lake, Wis. That project involves adding a steel frame addition to the terminal, matching the existing building right down to the specially-painted-to-match siding.

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