Moving to a Hangar

Inevitably I’d need to move my project to a hangar at some point. I wasn’t in critical need yet, but I began doing some investigation in 2002. The most convenient airport for me was Paine Field in Everett because that’s where the Boeing plant where I work is located, and it’s the closest to my house. Unfortunately the hangar options weren’t looking too good. The rental hangars were old with nothing more than a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling… and there was a one-year waiting list. Furthermore, airport policy is that no maintenance is to be performed in those hangars. There were also some privately owned hangars on the field, but buying one wasn’t really in my budget, even if I could find one for sale.

Arlington Airport was another option.  Their hangars are pretty old too, but I believe it was OK to work in them. Unfortunately Arlington is a good 40 minute drive from my house. On the plus side, Arlington has good homebuilder roots as the host of the Northwest EAA fly in and home of The New Glasair.

My last practical choice was Harvey Field. Not quite as far away as Arlington, but not many hangars available over there. Plus it’s located in a flood plain. That’s not really a “plus” at all, is it?

By pure luck I happened to surf to the Paine Field web site one day and noticed an announcement: they were considering constructing more hangars if they could get enough tenants to sign rental agreements. So I hurried down there to get the scoop. Jackpot!  They were planning to build brand new T-hangars and rectangular hangars of various sizes, complete with overhead lighting, 20 amp electrical circuits (4 outlets), sprinkler systems, and fully rated for aircraft maintenance (and construction). I put my deposit down right away. They easily got enough tenants to commit (I think there’s a waiting list now) and the project went forward. It took a little longer to complete than they had planned, but that was fine by me. I loaded the airplane onto a flatbed truck and hauled it to its new home in late June, 2003.

One thing I knew was going to be a problem was electrical power. The new hangars did not have 240VAC available, which is what my air compressor requires. I talked to the airport office about adding a 240VAC circuit for me: they were amenable, but it would have cost me over $500. I asked them if they were crazy because I could buy a new 120VAC compressor for less than that. They said they weren’t crazy and I just decided to go ahead and buy a new compressor. Unfortunately the story doesn’t end there.

Periodically when the compressor would start up, it would trip the circuit breaker. This didn’t affect other hangars thankfully, but the circuit breaker panel was in a locked electrical room at the end of the hangar row and I had to call airport maintenance to reset it. Invariably it would trip on a Friday evening when the maintenance people had gone for the weekend, leaving me powerless. I could not find any explanation as to when the breaker would trip and when it wouldn’t. It wasn’t temperature related, or other loads on the line. 9 times out of 10 the compressor would start up just fine. It was weird, and very frustrating for me and for the airport people.

Eventually enough was enough and I got permission to run a new 240VAC circuit into the hangar. They said I could do it myself provided it met county codes. So I did. The good news was that my hangar was only two units away from the electrical room, so pulling new wires through the conduit was pretty easy (with the help of some friends and their scaffold). The bad news was that panels were fed by 3-phase power, common for commercial buildings apparently. For those of you familiar with such things, you know where I’m going with this: you can’t get a 240VAC circuit out of a 3-phase feed. I could get a 207VAC circuit, but that wouldn’t do me much good. So after a few days and a few calls to the Paine Field Electricians we settled for a dedicated 120VAC circuit wired to a 30 amp breaker. Problem solved, although my new compressor doesn’t have quite the “umph” of my 240VAC compressor, which now sits quietly in the garage.

Aside from a rather sizeable monthly rent, the only other problem I’ve had since moving to the hangar is heat. The airport fire department will not allow heaters of any kind in the hangars. Heck, I even got a nasty “code violation” letter the other day because they found a small electric heater during a surprise inspection. Never mind that it was sitting on a shelf, unplugged. So winter work has slowed to a dead crawl for now.