Airborne Awesomosity

Hangar One

A while back we brought you a post about the USS Macon. In response, reader Mark sent me the picture above of the USS Macon inside it’s home port. Known as Hangar One, this ginormous structure has been the subject of awe and fantasy in California’s Bay Area for almost 80 years.

The Macon was gargantuan. And gargantuan airships require gargantuan buildings to keep them out of the elements. We don’t often think of buildings requiring much engineering. Sure, a structural engineer needs to calculate wind, snow and seismic loads. Mechanical engineers need to size the HVAC systems. Electrical engineers need to make sure nobody’s cubicle is in the dark. However, this building had to be different. Because it was so large — 1,133 feet long and 198 feet tall — the wind loads would be tremendous. So, it’s designed with an aerodynamic shape to reduce the wind loading, and, therefore, the internal structural requirements. Even more interesting, the 200-ton “orange peel” doors are designed to reduce turbulence when the Macon and other ships are moved in and out on windy days.

A set of tracks runs down the length of the hangar, and used to run out to the fields on either side. On these tracks rode the mast system used to keep the lighter-than-air craft from floating away. They would catch the airship, secure it, then roll the mast and the airship into the hangar. Pretty smart, if you ask me.

Hangar One has had a rough go of it lately. She sits right near the southern tip of the San Francisco Bay at Moffett Field. Her structure was coated in all sorts of stuff to preserve the metal cladding and structure…stuff we now know is Not Good™. It was found that these chemicals were beginning to leach into the ground and making their way into the bay. Many years were spent with the Navy, NASA, local preservationists, and tree huggers fighting over whether it should be repaired, torn down, or left alone. Luckily, an agreement was reached late last year and the cladding is being removed, the steel structure sealed, and the cladding will be replaced.

If you’re ever in the area around Moffett Field, take a little drive out by the base and you’ll see this large, hulking, gray building. That would be Hangar One, a relic of an era that ended too soon.

[Image Credit: NASA]

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