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A Veteran’s Day Salute to Military Hangars

As We Honor Those Who Have Served Our Country So Faithfully

The history of civilian aircraft hangars follows closely behind the development of military hangars.  In fact, it would be difficult to separate any aviation advances from military aircraft improvements.

American flag superimposed on overhead shot of airfield full of military aircraft hangarsAs we celebrate both Veteran’s Day and National Aviation History Month this month, let’s look at the history of military hangars in the U.S. and the aircraft they housed.

Brief Military Flight Timeline

You might expect airplane shelters to be the origin of modern hangars.  However, balloons preceded planes in warfare.  Here are some other quick facts from military flight history:

  • The French employed a balloon to monitor Austrian troop movement in 1794.
  • Balloons even served regularly during the American Civil War as enemy observation.  Surprisingly, the U.S. military continued use rigid gas-filled airships until after World War II.
  • The U.S. Army Signal Corps (forerunner of the U.S. Air Force) purchased a Wright Brother’s airplane in August 1909, making it the first heavier-than-air military aircraft in history.
  • Early aircraft served in a mostly reconnaissance-gathering capacity.  During World War I, planes gradually became more invasive as they were armed with anti-aircraft guns and bombs.
  • The two-man Sikorsky R-4 became the first helicopter purchased by the U.S. Armed Forces in 1942.  Rotorcraft quickly became an indispensable part of the U.S. military’s flying arsenal.
  • America’s first military jet was the Bell P-59 Airacomet.  However, the Airacomet proved less maneuverable than the North American P-51 Mustang, so it never served in combat.
  • The U.S. military employed both jetfighters and helicopters extensively during the Korean War.
  • Currently, several exciting new aircraft are in development in the U.S.  Upcoming aircraft include a stealth strategic bomber, a hypersonic strike fighter, reconnaissance and surveillance planes, and a new attack helicopter.

Early Military Hangars

Early aircraft were small by today’s standards.  They were generally housed in hastily constructed wood sheds.

Shortages of steel experienced in World War I forced the Navy to use wood for some hangar construction.  Few of these hangars survive today.

Hydrogen-filled rigid airships were the first to demand strong, durable hangars.  Fragile and volatile, dirigibles required sturdy protection from the elements.

Hangar 1 at the U.S. Naval Air Engineering Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey became one of the first of the mighty steel military hangars.  Completed in 1921, the 807-foot by 268-foot by 172-feet high monster hangar covers over 211,000 square feet.

Hangar 1 gave birth to the Navy airship USS Shenandoah.  This massive dirigible weighed 77,500 pounds.  It was over 93-feet in height and carried six machine guns and eight 500-pound bombs.  The Shenandoah stretched 680 feet in length.  It was also the first rigid airship to use helium rather than hydrogen.

In all, the U.S. Navy built seventeen hangars for lighter-than-air (LTA) dirigibles, mostly during World War II.

The Expansion of Military Hangars

  • U.S. military aircraft hangars in the late 1920s consisted mostly of 46-foot-by-46-foot wood structures with a dirt floor.
  • In the early 1930s, the typical military hangar width was 110-feet to 120-feet and featured steel trusses.
  • By 1939, the U.S. military housed planes in hangars of 200-foot to 275-foot spans under steel arched roofs.
  • In the 1950s, prefabricated multi-bay steel military hangars anchored to concrete pads became the norm.

Military Hangars Today

Steel is by far the most common construction material today for military, commercial, and civilian hangars.  Steel hangars, however, are certainly not new to the armed forces.   The U.S. military constructed its first steel hangar in 1916!

Steel’s high strength-to-weight ratio and fire-resistant qualities make it ideal for the extremely wide spans demanded for aircraft and helicopter hangars.  In fact, steel buildings now dominate all permanent military structures.

RHINO’s Thanks to the U.S. Military

Here at RHINO Steel Building Systems, we would like to thank our veterans from all branches of the military for their selfless service.  You are all true American heroes.

We also appreciate the men and women now serving so valiantly today, both at home and around the globe.  You are an inspiration.

In addition, we would like to salute those often-unsung heroes who design and build hangars and other U.S. military construction projects around the world.  Your expertise and dedication is truly respected by those of us in the construction business.  May your structures stand strong and stand long!

If you have the need for a prefabricated steel hangar or other metal building, please call RHINO at 940.383.9566.

Have a peaceful and perfect Veteran’s Day!