Pimped Out Hangars

Hangars can be much more than just a hole for your airplane. Here's how a handful of passionate pilots deck out theirs.

From the early days of aviation, hangars have been used to protect airplanes and the people who fly and work on them. The Wright brothers, who have been recognized as the first to fly a powered airplane, used two wooden sheds — one as a workshop and the other as a hangar — to protect themselves and their precious components as they finalized the design of the Wright Flyer. These buildings were significant enough that they were rebuilt at the memorial that now exists on the site of the historic flight in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina.

It's no coincidence that the early hangars looked like simple sheds. The word sprung up in the mid-1800s from the French word hangar, which, in fact, meant shed. In many cases, that is still all a hangar is — a very basic enclosure that protects one or several airplanes.

However, a hangar can be much more than just a place of storage or protection. Some airplane owners turn theirs into the ultimate hangouts where they can entertain friends while admiring their flying machines. Others incorporate their hangars into a cool work space. Some people take it one step further. They simply never want to be very far from their airplanes and build their homes adjacent to their hangars.

Here is a look at some of the most interesting hangars we could find.

Warbird Wonderland

Gillespie Field Airport in the eastern part of San Diego is home to a quaint group of 22 beautifully designed hangars located at the southwestern part of the airport. The hangar development, which could pass for a movie set with its harmonized colorings and immaculate grass areas, was conceived by Bill and Claudia Allen, who own the main hangar — a 17,000-square-foot building that houses not only their precious airplanes but also a private museum.

The Allens' hangar combines several sections: a main hangar area, a display hangar, a lounge/bar area, a gallery for a major poster collection and other artifacts, and a movie theatre.

Permanent airplanes in the main hangar are the Allens' Stearman, formerly owned by Steve McQueen (its N-number — N3188 — was McQueen's number while attending reform school); a Ryan ST-M (military sport trainer); a de Havilland Chipmunk owned by retired U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Mike Bowman; and a Cessna 210 that the Allens use for longer cross-country flights. The warbirds have all been restored to immaculate condition; however, the historical birds still fly regularly.

Hanging above the stunning airplanes is a miniature replica of Howard Hughes' infamous "Spruce Goose," a model with eight propellers that are spun by miniature electric motors, which was used in the movie The Aviator. There is a sizable display of Charles Lindbergh memorabilia, a collection of early flight helmets and goggles, and an immeasurable collection of aviation- and nonaviation-related artifacts.

Adjacent to the main space is a gallery that houses a large collection of early aviation posters from all over the world. Many of the posters are from the early 1900s, and some are one-of-a-kind originals from which the posters were printed. At the opposite end of the hangar is a movie theater with antique couches and plush chairs, the walls of which are adorned with brightly colored, limited edition aviation-themed movie posters.

The Allens' collection of posters adds up to hundreds, and those that are not on display are housed in a library, which doubles as an office, on the second floor of the hangar overlooking the airport. There is also a large collection of books, letters, notes, autographed pieces of paper and other collectibles from famed aviators.

Not only the artifacts have stories behind them. The construction materials used in the hangar do as well. For example, the flooring in the library is a narrow-board maple wood that was salvaged from the Consolidated Aircraft production floor. Attached to the main hangar space is a bar area, which has a beautiful stone fireplace and a spectacular wooden bar, which came from an estate in Santa Barbara, California. Behind the bar is a wall with antique windows that were salvaged from a bank in Minnesota. The windows look into the display hangar, which is reserved for special visiting airplanes or events.

The walls in the hangar are adorned with a stunning collection of wooden propellers, and the flooring in the display hangar and bar area is unique. It was constructed with freshly poured concrete that was acid stained to ­imitate a worn-out flight jacket. The effect is stunning and the flooring reflects airplanes beautifully.

The display hangar at Allen Airways Flying Museum, a private museum in San Diego, features a floor designed to imitate the look of a worn flight jacket and a wall full of beautiful wooden propellers.

Marvelous Man Cave

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When Cary Wilson was looking for a space to store his King Air, he decided to draw up his own design to create the ultimate man cave where he could wind down from his busy car sales business. Wilson leased a space at the Pearland Regional Airport in the southern outskirts of Houston and built a 5,600-square-foot hangar there.

Wilson designed his hangar space himself. He simply drew up the design on a sheet of paper, using his King Air as a guide. He then located a contractor to build the structure. Wilson has since sold the King Air, but he has an A-36 Bonanza, a Carbon Cub and an F-1 Rocket parked in the hangar now.

Wilson thought ahead when he designed his hangar. He incorporated hangar doors on both sides of the building, which allow him to taxi in on one side and out on the other. If the airflow through the space is insufficient, Wilson turns on the brand-name Big Ass Fan that is mounted in the ceiling of the hangar.

Wilson makes himself and his friends comfortable in first-class airline seats that have been restored and refabricated. He also has an old chair from a World War II helicopter and a coffee table that he made himself out of a jet engine nacelle. Decorations include several propellers, including one from a Convair, one from a Cessna 421 and a wooden Club Prop, which Wilson sanded down and refinished.

In addition to being an airplane nut, Wilson loves motorcycles. So his hangar design incorporated a shelf on one wall to store his collection of about 25 rare bikes. He owns a variety of models such as Kawasaki, Harley-Davidson, Husqvarna, Triumph and Greeves, several of which are antiques. Some are stored in soft plastic bubbles, which not only protect them but also provide a special display effect. All of Wilson's motorcycles are in running condition, but the engine of all but a Honda Gold Wing and a Harley have been pickled for display purposes.

For the days when Wilson has too much fun at the hangar to drive home, he has an attached 600-square-foot apartment with a kitchen and an office.

Hangar Home

Nestled in the rolling foothills of the grand Sierra Nevada Mountain range in Groveland, California, lies a charming fly-in community named Pine Mountain Lake. Alan Gaudenti built his hangar home there six years ago. The hangar itself is a 6,000-square-foot rectangular space where Gaudenti keeps his Cessna Citation Mustang and Beechcraft Bonanza. Gaudenti's contractor business built this hangar gem, and he outfitted it with many special accents.

The hangar entrance has marble flooring with a spa fountain, granite bar with stainless-steel counters, cool bar stools and a stone fireplace. Above the fireplace is a control-tower-shaped corner decorated with multicolor propellers. The bar area also has a big-screen TV and Stressless-brand couches. The remainder of the space contains his and hers bathrooms, a workshop and a hair salon for Gaudenti's wife, who styles customers while they watch airplanes take off and land on the 3,524-foot runway.

Within the hangar is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. Gaudenti's hangar sits on a three-acre property where the main 7,000-square-foot home is nestled in groves of 100-year-old oak trees.

To create good natural lighting, Gaudenti installed custom 15-foot-high windows all around the hangar. In addition to providing natural light, the windows are automated to open for fresh air ventilation. The ramp area outside the hangar has brick and edge lighting, creating an exclusive look at night.

With all the high-priced items contained within the hangar, security cameras are installed inside and out. While Gaudenti's hangar is already top-notch, there are still a few ­finishing touches to be done. Big Ass Fans are being installed, the flooring is going to be done up in terrazzo style, and wall hangings will be hung.

Alan Gaudenti's hangar at Pine Mountain Lake is the perfect party venue with a granite-top bar, stone fireplace and decorative propellers.

Homebuilder Heaven

Hangars don't have to be thousands of square feet to be special. Justin Twilbeck created his own hangar in his backyard in Huntsville, Alabama, specifically to create a comfortable space for building his RV-10. The 640-square-foot hangar is a beautiful wood-frame building that is well insulated and has air conditioning and heat so that Twilbeck can comfortably spend time working on his project in any weather conditions.

It is no exaggeration to say Twilbeck created the hangar. He actually did. He designed the space to fit his airplane project using images of barns, wood shops, carriage doors and different paint schemes to come up with a plan. He then read a book about house building and got to work. With the exception of pouring the foundation and putting the shingles on the roof, Twilbeck built the structure himself.

You enter the hangar through barnlike wooden doors that make it easy to get large airplane parts in and out. The doors were specifically sized to be able to get the landing gear through widthwise and the airplane with the horizontal stabilizer through heightwise. The hangar space is long enough to fit the entire fuselage with the engine mounted, and Twilbeck is still able to maneuver around it. Plus it is wide enough for a nice work space with workbenches on each side.

The hangar is adorned with parts for the RV-10, and the walls are covered with prints of the plans for the experimental airplane. Beneath the prints and parts, the walls are finished with insulation, but the simple design creates a cabinlike feel. Twilbeck completed the hangar in late 2011 and started working on the airplane in March 2012. Since then, he has completed most of the fuselage, including the doors, and installed the landing gear, firewall and windshield.

Twilbeck has to balance his hangar time with time spent with his family, which includes his wife and 1-year-old daughter. But he manages to spend time in his special space working on his airplane almost every day, averaging about 10 hours of work each week. The cozy space has also been used to entertain. On occasion he invites friends for a poker night in the hangar, and he plans to have an open hangar party once a few more of the airplane parts have been mounted to the structure.

Justin Twilbeck built a unique hangar space in his backyard to provide himself with a cozy space to work on his RV-10. The convenient location and purpose-built design allows Twilbeck to put regular hours into building his airplane.

Airport Office

Some passionate aviators who are not able to live in or near their hangars or use them for lavish special events find other ways of spending a majority of their time alongside their beloved airplanes. While not huge or extravagant, the hangar at Whiteman Airport in Los Angeles, belonging to Christian Fry, co-founder of Pretend Entertainment — a production company specializing in documentaries for film and television — has been turned into a very special office space.

In 2002, Fry tracked down and purchased a 1948 North American Navion, which his grandfather bought new from the factory and sold in 1955. Fry went on a mission to bring the Navion back into the family after seeing images of his family posing in front of the airplane. He originally parked his Navion on the tarmac at Santa Monica Airport, but when his friend Roger Tonry developed a set of hangars at Whiteman, Fry jumped at the opportunity to provide better protection for his beautiful airplane.

As the hangars were being built, Fry found a storage area adjacent to his hangar space. He inquired of Tonry whether he could use the space as an office. Tonry agreed to rent the space separately and allowed Fry to install French doors and a window in the metal wall that separates the two spaces, enabling Fry to keep an eye on his Navion while working on his movie projects.

And it's not only the family Navion that Fry stores in the hangar. He also has his grandfather's Plymouth Woody, which was purchased the same year as the airplane, and his grandmother's Mercedes, which was bought in 1967 and has only about 40,000 miles on it.

Inside the office space, Fry raised the flooring to create a sense of separation between his editing area and the lounge space. In addition to the computers Fry uses for his editing work, the office has a satellite connection that displays programming on a 55-inch flat-screen TV, wood-laminate flooring, several Persian rugs and plush furniture, some of which were built by Fry's grand­father and others that were originally in his childhood home. There is also a full-size fridge, a kitchenette and an espresso maker to help keep him alert during his workday. Fry often has gatherings at his hangar to watch sporting events, movies and other shows.

In addition to creating a nice hangout in the main hangar area, Christian Fry designed a very special office space behind the French doors. Fry stores many family heirlooms, including a Navion that his grandfather bought new in 1948.

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