Changing Nests

Posted January 2002

Back in 1984, the Fly Baby club in Seattle was getting started. In exchange for EAA Chapter 26 (Seattle) restoring the airplane for the 20th anniversary, Pete Bowers had agreed to let us use the plane as part of a flying club. An announcement was made at the meeting that interested parties should meet at a local airport the next Saturday to look over the airplane and see about setting up the club.

About a half-dozen of us met with Ross, the CFI and chapter member in charge of the club. The plane was currently based at Arlington, Washington, about sixty miles north of Seattle. Most of the people didn't want to travel that far to fly the plane, so I volunteered to get a hangar in Auburn airport, in a suburb just south of Seattle.

I went to Auburn airport and found out they had a long waiting list. I put my name on the list, and was told it would be a while. A year, probably.

In the meantime, nothing much happened with the club. There were few people actually willing to kick out the $250 to join and the ~$25/month or so dues that would be necessary to pay for the hangar and keep the insurance up-to-date. I figured nothing ever would happen. In the meantime, N500F languished in an open tiedown at Arlington.

About a year later, I got a call from Auburn: My name had come to the top of the hangar list. I called Ross, and told him. We had four members of the club (Including Ross and the guy who had charge of the restoration, who both weren't required to pay dues), and the other members didn't object to bringing the Fly Baby to Auburn.

I made one good decision at this point: I signed the hangar lease in my own name, not that of the club's.

Anyway, come the next Saturday, I was standing by the hangars at Auburn, watching a red-and-yellow biplane enter the pattern. Ross landed N500F, and I waved him over to N500F's new home: Hangar 77, Auburn airport (which happily shortened to '77 Auburn Strip').

After a switch to the monoplane wings, my adventures began. 77 Auburn Strip was the launching pad and the splashdown point. It was just another open T-hangar in a raft of T-Hangars. The wind blew straight through, making a cockpit cover mandatory. Under the cockpit cover, N500F had just simple toggle switches for the magnetos. All it took to fly it was an ability to untie the tiedown ropes and the guts to prop the airplane.

77 Auburn strip saw a lot, over the next fifteen years. We saved money for the club by sharing the hangar, and N500F ended up sharing with T-18s, a Long-Ez and a Varieze. I changed oil with rain blowing in; I balanced on the slippery ramp when hand-propping the plane in the winter. I dropped an old pickup truck seat in the hangar, which became a good spot to hangar-fly with friends or watch the other planes taxi by. The adjoining hangar sported two T-18s and the Story Special, and maintenance sessions on our airplanes often turned into gab sessions. The Story club had a locker that had a lot of odd equipment in it. Only a rope secured the door, and occasionally I would rummage through their locker to see if they had a nail or a bit of safety wire, or whatever gadget I needed at the moment (the head of the story club was also the maintenance officer for the Fly Baby).

1994 saw Fly Baby N500F disappear to a new owner in Indiana. A chalk outline on the hangar floor marked my loss. I should have turned the hangar back into the airport...but didn't. I bought half-interest in an Stinson, but my co-owner already had his own hangar. Mine didn't stay empty...I still rented half the space to other homebuilt owners, and kept that spot open, just in case.

1996 brought Moonraker, my own Fly Baby, and a new set of adventures. 77 Auburn Airport was ready. My monetary situation had greatly improved since the mid-80s. When my last hangar-mate moved his airplane, I didn't bother to find someone else to share with. Heck, I could have afforded one of the small canvas-doored closed hangars at Auburn. But why? 77 Auburn strip kept the rain and the sun (mostly) off the airplane, and I enjoyed the social atmosphere.

But everything ages. People, airplanes...and even hangars. The hangars at Auburn were deteriorating as the years went by. The airport started redoing hangar roofs...but stopped before the row that Moonraker was parked in. They'd run out of money for refurbishments. They'd built brand-new hangars at the north end of the field, large private units with steel doors big enough to take an Aero Commander. But they had been done with special bond money; they didn't have enough left to finish fixing the hangar roofs.

In the space of a couple of years, 77 Auburn strip went from a minor drip here and there to a near-flood everywhere. I was forced to add sealing strips and drainholes to keep the water from rotting Moonraker's insides. Sealant sloshed on the roof dripped through the holes, leaving brown spots all over Moonraker's cream paint. Pieces of rotting wood fell occasionally. The airport maintenance workers didn't even dare walk on the roof anymore. Finally, the airport tacked up blue tarps along the inside of the roof. They left me a long pole, so I could poke the tarps occasionally to shove the water out. The tacking strips didn't hold in the rotted beams, and occasionally I would arrive at the airport to find a 6' long piece of wood lined with nails lying on my wing, where it had dropped from above.

The final straw was a year ago. I was forced to work a number of days in the hangar, switching the landing gear legs. Cold wind swirled around me. The floor was slick from mildew where the tarps dripped. One drip seemed to be aimed right at my neck as I crouched on the floor, working on the airplane.

Eventually, I had enough. I knew the airport wouldn't be fixing the hangar before summertime. Even when they did, they would kick Moonraker out into the rain for the three months it seemed to take, charging me full hangar rent the whole time. I marched into the airport offices and put my name on the waiting list for the new, fancy hangars at the north end. They were building a new set of them, and I'd probably be able to move in by summer.

Well, it didn't happen. None of it. No repairs to my roof...and they didn't build the new hangars, either. City wouldn't let them issue bonds for it.

Sigh. Moonraker stayed in the damp. The airport cut slots into the tarps, which routed the water around the airplane. But there were still brown dots deposited across the fabric.

Then, two weeks ago, I got a call: My name had come up to the top of the list, and one of the existing new-construction hangars was mine, if I wanted it. The airport guy drove me and my wife over to look at it. Incredible. Dry, new, solid. Tall enough to put a loft in. Bigger than our first apartment. A *heated* bathroom with running water, instead of the plastic san-i-can.

And a rent more than twice what I was paying for the open one. Gulp. Rather ridiculous, really. Three years of hangar rent would cost what I'd paid for the airplane to start with.

I was reluctant. It's not a matter of income, it's a matter of being *cheap*. I was really uncomfortable with the prospect of spending that much money just for a place to park the airplane that I flew for 40 hours a year.

But my wife said, "do it," and another look at Moonraker sitting soggily in its hangar clinched it. The check for first/last month's rent and the damage deposit was almost a thousand bucks.

So..after fifteen years, I've got a locking, private hangar. The more I think about it, the better I like it. I can put my hangar tools on a tool board instead of bundled away in a corner of a locker. I can take my airplane apart and *leave* it apart, instead of worrying about cowlings and inspection panels being blown around the airport. I can park my horizontal/vertical bandsaw in the hangar. I can put up storage racks for my extra tires, magnetos, and other parts. Binders for my reference books, a radio to help while away the hours.

It's going to cost...but it's sure looking like it'll be a lot better.

Comments? Contact Ron Wanttaja .

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