Hangar doors. They are the subject of deep debate and often the source of much pain and frustration. We’ve all asked the questions…
- What type of door should I get?
- Should the door face the sun?
- What’s better, bi-fold, rolling, or hydraulic?
- How tall should the opening be?
- Why can’t I get my door open?
- Why are the floor guides for the sliding doors so high?
And we’ve all made the statements…
- We’re screwed, the power went out and we have no back up.
- I can’t believe someone hit my door with their car…again!
- Get the shovel, the airport plow came by…again!
- Hold on, I’ve got to close my neighbor’s door so I can get mine open.
There seems to exist some unsolvable mystery when it comes to hangar doors as we all struggle for that elixir that will reveal the perfect door. Most of today’s door manufacturing companies have done a great job at designing doors that are functional, long lasting, safe, weather tight, and economical when needed. In all reality, the mystery isn’t in the door but in the mind of the consumer.
To solve this mystery, one must look inward and evaluate their needs, the location of where the hangar will be built, review airport restrictions and land lease contracts, abide by any owner association rules that may apply, and investigate how all of these parameters may be intertwined. The mystery of the hangar will only be solved when all of these parameters have been taken into account.
Door Styles – A General Overview
Hangar doors come in a multitude of functioning styles and made from either steel or aluminum. Sliding, accordion, bi-fold, single panel, and fabric door styles are among the most popular. The right door for you may not be the right door for your neighbor. There are pros and cons of each: some doors when opened occupy space along the interior walls of the hangar, sliding doors may have floor tracks on the threshold of the door opening, some door designs will reduce vertical clearance of your rough opening, and others may not be opened if someone parks their car or plane in front of your hangar. It is up to the consumer to review all of these attributes.
Aside from the physical structure of the door that is usually skinned with corrugated metal siding, architectural style doors are becoming more and more popular. Glass has introduced a welcomed change. Although more expensive, it adds an element of contemporary styling and allows a tremendous amount of natural light into primary hangar area. Other architectural materials are becoming more available for exterior applications for the hangar and the doors themselves.
Needs – Physical Access
The primary objective of any hangar door is to open and close and be large enough to accommodate your aircraft. The first question when buying or building a hangar is to ensure vertical and horizontal clearances are adequate for your Cherokee or G550. If you are building a smaller hangar, think of things other than your aircraft that you might be storing in your hangar. Remember, the hangar is just another toy box used to store our larger, lifestyle accessories. Boats, ATVs, PWCs, car collections, and RVs/motorhomes usually find themselves cohabitating with our aircraft.
When it comes to motorhomes, plan on having a door that yields a minimum vertical opening of 14 feet when the door is open. Why 14 feet? It all has to do with the standardized height of highway and roadway bridges. The national bridge height standard is variable from state to state but 14 feet seems to be the benchmark.
If you are retrofitting a hangar with a bi-fold door, you might be able to gain an additional 18 inches of vertical clearance (all gains are approximate so check with the door manufacturer) by installing a single panel hydraulic door. With the extra clearance, you might get that Tioga in the hangar yet.
If upgrading the primary hangar door is impossible but the physical layout permits, consider a dedicated garage door for your RV on the landside of the hangar. This may make the hangar door debate moot and add significant value to the hangar with minimal investment.
Safety advancements and other convenience items are available for virtually all door systems. Back-up batteries for electric motors, photo-eyes, pinch protectors, aural and visual warning systems during door actuation, remote control door openers, self-locking doors, sensing edges, and cable guards are just a few of the standard and optional accessories you can find with new door systems.
Needs – Budget
Regardless of one’s economic status, budgets are most always a consideration. Construction materials, door style, aesthetics, manufacturer, shipping, installation, warranty, and door accessories are major factors that should be taken into account as they will undoubtedly affect the price of your door.
The biggest variable to consider when designing your door (aside from size) is the material selected for the framework. Steel has always been the default material. Steel is easy to fabricate, relatively inexpensive, and easily repaired. On the down side, steel is also heavy and is susceptible to corrosion.
Aluminum has become a viable alternative to steel construction. It is much lighter, stronger, and does not rust. The consumer will be faced with a higher cost of the raw material and if damaged, more costly to repair. In the end, the value of the hangar will be greater with an aluminum door.
Location, Location, Location
Today’s door designs have improved in performance and reliability. Ironically, weather may be one of the determining factors in the door you select for two reasons: wind and snow. In snowy locations, airport snowplows may deposit large piles of snow in front of the hangar door. These snow piles provide a physical barrier preventing the forward swing of the single panel hydraulic door. Ice and snow may also get in the tracks on sliding doors and prohibit their movement. In addition, through no fault of the door manufacturer, snow loads on the roof may compress the door into the concrete slab and further restrict its movement.
Like snow, windy locations may also be a factor to consider. Some doors have limitations when being operated in strong winds. Excessively strong winds blowing straight at a single panel door may prevent it from opening. This won’t affect the fair weather pilot, as even taxiing in really strong winds could be a challenge. But if you are in the aircraft maintenance business, you may want to get aircraft in and out of the hangar for servicing and the winds may prevent this action from happening.
We’ve discussed the budget. We’ve discussed access. We’ve discussed location. Unfortunately, in most cases there exist a multitude of caveats that may directly affect your decision making and will most likely result in not one, but several forced compromises in deciding what door you might actually end up with. If you guessed the FAA, airport authority, and owner association group, you guessed right. Each of these groups, no matter how well intended, can act as a serious wet blanket by directly and indirectly influencing the door you may select.
For most of us, our hangars are built on public land. Land lease terms vary greatly from region to region. Remember that no matter how much you spend on your door (and on your hangar for that matter), you may have to forfeit the full structure at the end of your land lease if unable to renew. This reality is probably the single most significant reason we see so many hangar doors (and hangars) that are barely functioning eyesores.
To a lesser extent, the FAA and owner association groups may also coerce your door selection. You may have your eye on the perfect site for your new hangar but due to its proximity to the runway, the height of your hangar and door opening is restricted. Even more frustrating is the fact that most airparks have an owner’s association that may dictate that all hangar doors be of a certain style.
The Great Mystery Unraveled
The primary “takeaway” from this article is this. You must do your research and define every possible variable before purchasing your door. Regardless of your budget, door style preference, and even if your hangar is built on YOUR private land, you will probably end up with a door that does not satisfy 100% of your personal criteria. But now that you are armed with some knowledge, you will keep 100% of your expectations in check.
If you are going to invest in a hangar, you might as well maximize its utility.
HangarSphere would like to thank Jim Davis from Wilson Doors for technical contributions supporting this article. Wilson Doors is a part of Norco Manufacturing and is based in Elkhorn, Wisconsin USA. Wilson Doors is the maker of both steel and Aluminum bi-fold and single panel hydraulic doors. Norco Manufacturing manufactures larger doors for airlines and MRO facilities. Please visit www.wilsondoors.com and www.norcomfg.com
Images Courtesy of Megadoor, Norco/Wilson, and Morton Buildings