Of Terminals and Hangars

Some things remain unchanged.


A decade later, four-engine, passenger aircraft required more sophisticated hangars and terminals separate from maintenance operations. Between 1931 and 1937 Pan American Airways (PAA) flew enormous flying boats designed by Sikorsky and Boeing, and hired Lindbergh as an operations consultant. PAA destinations included China, Hawaii and other exotic ports, where special water ferries linked passengers to their luxurious aircraft. 

PAA’s airframes were subject to corrosion, and Lindbergh later observed that “operating in a semi-tropical area with the added problem of salt water take-offs and landings …was a maintenance nightmare.” Sikorsky’s S-40 aircraft which were specifically designed for PAA’s North and South American routes had a 114-foot one-piece wing under which hung four engines.  It was supported by so many struts that Lindbergh called it the “Flying Forest.” 

In 1939, the Sikorsky S-40s and S-42s were replaced by the Boeing 314 Clippers, still considered the most romantic passenger planes ever built. The four-engine Clippers offered mechanics access in the 152-foot wings for minor in-flight repairs. Routine maintenance was done while the Clippers were anchored off-shore or tethered to sea docks. Engine maintenance was done in over-sized hangars (or on the field in mild climates) jammed with a honeycomb of complex scaffolding designed to perfectly accommodate the giant flying boats. 

Modern aircraft hangars and passenger terminals still retain the basic elements specified by Lindbergh and constructed by Shaw during the time when travelers wore their best clothes for the occasion — and never worried about lost luggage.

Related Reading: Look for Giacinta’s article on PAA mechanic and maintenance dock designer, Henry “Hank” Anholzer in her column “Past Contact! Mechanics in Aviation History” for Aircraft Maintenance Technology in the July and September 2009 issues.  (www.amtonline.com)

Giacinta Bradley Koontz is an aviation historian, former museum director and archaeologist. She is the 2008 recipient of the DAR History Medal and nationally recognized expert on the life of Harriet Quimby, America’s first licensed female pilot

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