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What is a Hangar?

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  • Written By: Alan Rankin
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2016
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A hangar is a building used for storing aircraft while they are not in service. Hangars are large buildings with plenty of open space so that, if necessary, several aircraft can be maneuvered and stored inside. In addition to storage, hangars are also used as locations for aircraft maintenance and repair. While hangars are most commonly used for airplanes, specialized hangars store other forms of aircraft such as dirigibles and even spacecraft.

Early aviators used barns and cattle pens to store their aircraft because such structures were usually wide, enclosed spaces accessible through large doors. In fact, the word “hangar” comes from the French word for a barn or cattle pen. As aviation became more widespread and important in the early 20th century, manufacturers of such buildings began designing them specifically for aircraft. Early airplane hangars were wide, tall buildings with gigantic doors, located adjacent to an airport or landing field. The same essential design has been used for hangars ever since.

A modern airplane hangar is essentially an enormous garage or maintenance shed. Repair equipment and maintenance supplies are stored within the hangar or nearby. Depending on the size of the building, it may also contain small offices and other facilities for maintenance personnel. Most hangars are built of sturdy materials such as steel and concrete to protect aircraft from harsh weather. Some temporary hangars are built of lightweight materials and can be erected in remote locations when necessary.

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In the early part of the 20th century, special hangars were built to contain airships, also known as dirigibles or blimps. These were constructed with materials that would not generate accidental sparks, as these might ignite the flammable gases that kept the airships aloft. An example of such a hangar can be seen in the 2004 French film A Very Long Engagement, along with the consequences of an air attack on such a building. When airship use declined after the 1930s, these hangars were used to store airplanes.

The hangars built to store and maintain spacecraft are among the largest hangars in existence. A California facility built for private spacecraft in 2010 contained 62,000 square feet (about 5,760 square meters) of space. Other large hangars are used for modern wide-body aircraft that are larger than standard jetliners. One such hangar, at Spain’s Barcelona airport, has a width of 510 feet (about 155 meters). The hangar constructed for the “Spruce Goose,” the largest airplane ever built, was 315,000 square feet (about 29,000 square meters).

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