Pilotage

T-hangar tales

April 1, 2002

Three days ago we celebrated a landmark event. We moved into our new hangar, with the emphasis on the word new.

Ours is one of 26 brand-spanking-new T-hangars the airport authority just completed as part of a five-year master plan to improve airport facilities. The ink on the building inspector's certificate of occupancy was still wet when we were handed the keys to our airplane's new home.

You know how good it feels the first time you get into a new car you've just bought? Ditto when I open the door to our new hangar. There is not so much as a drop of sooty aircraft engine oil staining the smooth concrete floor, nor a single bird's nest wedged up in the steel beams supporting the sheet-aluminum roofing.

All the lights come on when I flip the switch. The steel cables that lift the hangar door are shiny and taut. The electrically actuated door goes up and comes down without binding, grinding, creaking, or groaning. The flexible seal along the bottom of the door both flexes and seals. The fire extinguisher is current and, incredibly, the adjustable vent in the roof actually has a pull chain hanging from it. Everything works, everything's new. It will never look this good again.

A hangar is as important to an airplane owner as a purse is to a woman. Yes, it's possible to get along without one, but given the opportunity, wouldn't you rather have it than not? Like a purse, a hangar protects its valuable contents from the elements and shields them from prying eyes and preying hands. Along with their primary duties, hangars and purses serve as convenient receptacles for an amazing and confusing collection of seldom-used stuff. In the case of a hangar, that includes revered cars, fast boats, and motorcycles.

A packed purse functions as a closet away from home; some T-hangars fully qualify as a second home. What else could you call a favorite hangout equipped with a well-stocked refrigerator, a hot plate and barbecue grill, lumpy couches, office and storage areas, cheesy artwork, high-gloss floor paint, carpet pads under the tires, and a catch pan under the cowl?

And oh, the scenery. A lake house doesn't provide half the sightseeing value of our 48 feet of prime T-hangar frontage with its view of the runway.

We've been waiting a long time for this. The airplane spends part of the year in Kansas City with partner Doug, who until recently leased a T-hangar. It kept the airplane dry and secure, but it had a dirt floor, doors that had to be pushed open and closed, and squatters — birds. Doug let the lease lapse when we brought in a third partner, Rick, here in Florida.

The airplane now spends the majority of the year enjoying sunshine and warmth — literally. Until we moved it into the hangar this week, the airplane occupied a tiedown spot on the ramp. We bought a Bruce's Custom Covers canopy blanket that did a surprisingly good job of keeping the temperature down in the cabin and protecting our new plastic windows. We stuffed vinyl-covered foam plugs in the nose-bowl openings and a cover on the pitot-static port. We tightened the tiedown belts and chocked the wheels.

We didn't worry much about the paint because it was already dull and chalky with age and outdoor experience. Until last September, that is, when we had the airplane painted. Very patriotic — white with U.S. Navy blue and New York Finger Lakes region red-wine striping. It's tough to force a freshly painted airplane to live outdoors, but we had no choice. Prior to the latest construction, there were only enough hangars on the airport to accommodate 30 percent of the based fleet. Hangar space was like a diamond — a coveted gem that, once acquired, became an heirloom never to be given up, only sublet to friends.

I put my name on the hangar waiting list. Ah, The List. Is there anything in aviation more pliable, more susceptible to closed-door deal making than a hangar waiting list? At one point we hopefuls were told The List had more than 150 names on it. No doubt many had made their last great takeoff — to the heavens — years ago, but there they were, alive and well on The List.

Finally, a purge was ordered. To remain on The List, you had to respond to an official notification with a nonrefundable $50 I'm-still-alive-and-flying fee. When the dust finally settled, I had accomplished a meteoric rise into the top 20. That put me in the batter's box, and eventually I scored.

Our new hangar sits at the far end of a row, but we face an open field and have a good view of the business end of Runway 23. It's the runway of choice in changing weather, when sweaty southwesterly winds tumble in off the Gulf to annoy pilots grown soft from too many calm-wind landings on Runway 5. It'll be fun to watch.