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Who Created The First Standardised Steel Hangar?

Every technological development brings with it new discoveries and ways to run the world, but also new challenges when it comes to storage, location management and facilities.

The dawn of aviation is a great example of this, given the unique challenges associated with constructing large, open affordable steel hangar buildings that are easily installed to add capacity to existing airfields and airstrips.

Unlike a conventional temporary structure, support columns and walls must be kept to a minimum, and in order to support the tremendous wingspan of modern aircraft such as the Airbus A380, they need to be much wider than a typical large structure with huge side doors to match.

This is a problem that has existed since the Wright Brothers, but the most common and clear solution of using a huge prefabricated and easily installable metal hangar took decades into the age of flight to come to fruition.

The Aircraft Hangar Pioneers

The first known aircraft hangar is, indeed, the one owned by Orville and Wilbur Wright, the inventors and pioneers who created the first aeroplane capable of actual flight, although calling it a “hangar” might be overselling it somewhat.

At Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, the Wright Brothers knew that they needed a place to store their experimental gliders and planes for testing, and set to work building one from wood, one of the cheapest and most versatile materials available at the dawn of the 20th century.

They used the hangar for their series of gliders, as well as the Wright Flyer or Kitty Hawk, an aircraft capable of heavier-than-air flight. They would complete the Wright Flyer in 1903 but whilst waiting for it to ship from their base in Ohio, their original hangar would be destroyed.

However, for decades, wood, along with canvas would be the main materials for aircraft hangars, most notably in the form of the Bessonneau hangar, the first standardised transportable hangar design ever made.

Prior to this, there were some side-opening aeroplane sheds, but whilst some were made with corrugated iron, most were made with wood, concrete or even asbestos sheets, typically taking quite some time to construct between 1910 and 1916.

After this was the Belfast Truss, an elaborate wooden lattice design that had already proven to work with long buildings, although this complexity would make them difficult to build and transport.

The Bessonneau, on the other hand, was first made in 1908 in France using a mix of steel, timber and canvas.

Much like other rapidly-built structures at the time such as the Nissen Hut, they were designed to be built and dismantled very quickly and efficiently.

The Bellman Hangar

First designed in 1936, the Bellman was made entirely of steel, was able to be mass-produced, had interchangeable parts and could be constructed very quickly, taking twelve men less than two days in total to build, with more workers reducing the time considerably.

This proved to be key just three years later when the Second World War began and the capacity of the Royal Air Force needed to increase exponentially.

Whilst there have been plenty of designs that have superseded it since the Bellman hangar is amongst the most important temporary structures in British history.


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