The pastime of many pilots is not necessarily piloting real, honest-to-goodness, airplanes. Rather, it is something known far and wide as “hangar flying.” Now, those of us who are real-to-life, honest-to-goodness, FAA certified pilots know that there have been times when we have had just as much fun and fellowship talking to other pilots about being a pilot than when we were actually piloting a plane toward that overpriced $100 hamburger.
However, it is possible that you may be one of the completely sane non-pilots reading this dribble and you are confused, thinking that hangar flying is something that must take place within an aircraft hangar or even that some enlightened, big-time airline captain or military test pilot actually figured out a way to fly a hangar.
The truth is that hangar flying may take place within a hangar, or anyplace two or more people who have a good sense of humor and a proclivity for the distortion of absolute aeronautical truth meet. Now, regarding actually flying a hangar, the FAA has concluded that there is no evidence that any aircraft hangar has ever flown. No matter how much some of those big-time airline button pushers have tried to convince us that they got one airborne, it just ain’t so.
My buddy “Buck,” who is the owner of a nice Cessna 182 and a long-time private pilot, happened to be attending a fairly formal dinner for a business association of which we both are members. My wife and I got there after many had already been seated, and on the way to our table we passed right by Buck. He leaned on the back two legs of his chair, straining to reach my forearm as I started to pass him by. Grabbing my arm with a firm grip and pulling me toward him until he saw that he had my attention, he said, “Ed, you’re not going believe what happened to me the other day.”
The serious tone of his voice and his straight facial expression made me concerned, and I wondered if something bad had happened to my friend. Buck, knowing that he had my attention, didn’t miss a beat. In the same tone and with the same facial expression he said, “There I was at 30,000 feet at over 300 knots when…”
There it was. I had been hit in the face with a case of unexpected, unanticipated, sudden, and blatant hangar flying in the middle of a white tablecloth business dinner. No proper thinking pilot could have seen this imminent and completely disingenuous hangar flying coming their way. On the other hand, hangar flying is meant to be enjoyed by those who are not properly thinking at the moment.
Well, it took a couple of seconds for me to switch from concerned friend to sincere appreciation for Buck’s ability to become an instantaneous hangar flying storyteller. I can honestly tell you that I do not recall one of the other dishonest hangar flying fables Buck told me after his claim to be at 30,000 feet doing 300 knots in his 182. But I can tell you that I have told his story numerous times to other pilots and it always brings a laugh and big smile to them, and me. One must understand that hangar flying is an art, it is storytelling, and when done properly with eloquent elocution, both laughter and learning may occur.
While meaning to distort truth is wrong, hangar flying is (mostly) not lying. It is a skill where distortion of the truth is so blatant, so perverted, and so goofy that when I try to convince even my grandchildren of my astonishing abilities and skills, they lock eyes with me and asked, “really?”
Over the decades I have made friends with some of the finest men you will ever meet. One of them is a former Navy P-3 driver who has every FAA rating known to mankind. To possibly further enhance his resume, and while performing unrehearsed hangar flying which I have shared with him, I might consider that he has even made up a few ratings that beforehand where unknown to the FAA or mankind at large. But who am I to judge another while they perform the fine art of hangar flying?
Here is an aeronautical problem so deep and so complex that Dale (the aforementioned friend) and I believe that there can be no certain solution or proper answer.
There you are in your aircraft, having properly performed all your FAA pre-flight requirements, including weight and balance, and at this point you are ready to bore a hole in the sky, to soar like an eagle and possibly test the full extent of your insurance policy, when an insect (a fly) is noticed just as you become airborne. This is not an issue since you have flown with insects before, but now you note that the fly has ceased to fly and has landed on your glareshield. At this point you, the reader, must be asking, “Who cares?”
You should care, and care deeply, if you want to have some good hangar flying laughs. Just ask your fellow pilots if that fly added to the gross weight of your aircraft. If it did then was that weight deducted when the fly began to fly again inside your cabin? Do not join in the conversation, just let ‘em talk. The differing personality types will be on full display, with each demanding that they are right. I have seen people argue fervently that they are absolutely right and cite all of their supporting facts. Hey, engineer types, I am looking at you!
Dale and I posed this “fly” question so many times over the years and have had so many laughs from the various answers. I strongly recommend that you try this question yourself and just sit back and listen.
While the FAA regulates almost everything, they have yet to devise a rating for a “qualified” and official hangar flying pilot. This means that you may be qualified if you have ever flown a kite, a paper airplane, watched an airplane disaster movie, played with a paper doll, or even used toilet paper. While it might be considered a potential boost if you are a student or have some type of pilot certification, the absence thereof should not hold you back. If you do not have one of those honest-to-goodness, FAA-certified pilot licenses then be like my friend Buck (who does have one)… just make up your story as you go. After all, we all know you are just telling stories and it is just for fun and fellowship anyway.
If you are wondering about the picture that’s me co-piloting and my son is in the captain’s seat flying his Cherokee at nearly 25,000 feet and approaching Mach 1 while rich of peak at 4.78999 GPH. Yes, it was a clear and calm day so no problems.
Hangar flying is no-cost fun and at times it may even become educational, which means that it is possible you may actually learn something useful. For example, you may learn the mystery how a V-tailed Bonanza flies. No doubt one of your hangar flying friends can properly explain it… or at least make you believe he is properly explaining it.
Ed Harrison is an instrument-rated pilot who began his love of aircraft as a child after spending time around airplanes while flying with his father. He did not earn his PPL until after having spent time “flying” telephone poles as a US Navy Seabee, but completed it just before the birth of his oldest child, Brian (now 38). “Granted his PPL in celebration of his son’s birth,” the FAA later claimed. Ed has owned two Bonanzas and is also a partner in an RV-7 he helped assemble 10 years ago (although some dispute how much help he was). He lives with his wife, Trish, just south of Dallas in Ovilla, Texas. They have three grown children and 10 grandkids. He recently retired from a 37-year career as a custom home builder and land developer.