Together in cockpit
6 min read

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…”

Together in cockpit

Doing Mach 1 at 25,000 feet… maybe.

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
Latest posts by Ed Harrison (see all)
10 replies
  1. Suresh Kumar Bista
    Suresh Kumar Bista says:

    We do learn from mistakes made by others. Some look and sound sound very stupid. When these are brought out to discuss during ‘hangar flying’, there is so much information to achieve.

  2. Ish Kabible
    Ish Kabible says:

    Dear ED;

    I’m calling Fantasy Island on the article.

    Clearly you are living in a part of the country where the Fire Marshall who is responsible for your airport is a slacker or uninformed on the Absolute Cancel Culture Authority granted by the FAA to even the tiniest sliver of airport property under their Marshals jurisdiction.

    The airport where about 100 of us rent hangers has 3 separate Fire Marshall’s each controlling different parts of the field. Chaos and mini dictators impose their will, which varies by where you are on the field. Most recently I was sited by the Fire Marshal for having a chair in my hanger – with associated big time fine and police involvement unless I removed the chair. His interpretation of the FAA hanger use / content is total, absolute and cannot be appealed. This guys township has 11,000 residents occupying less than 5 sq miles.

    Hanger flying – ya, I’ used to enjoy that from 1975 to 2017, learned a lot, made friends and counted it as time well spent – but all that stopped in 2017 when Fire Marshals began dictating a zero tolerance for anything other than planes in hangers.

    Repeated calls to AOPA confirm – do not even think about objecting to or ignoring any Fire Marshal’s whim, edict, fatwa, encyclical or rambling – OBEY, or you will regret it.

  3. Adam Shaw
    Adam Shaw says:

    … and if you ever hung about a French airfield, you’d be convinced a Frenchman invented Pinnochio, not an Italian.

  4. SamB
    SamB says:

    Ed, uninteresting fact: I have and love that same in-ear headset manufactured by a family man out of Florida. I forgot his brand name, but I bought mine at Oshkosh. I tried to look him up to buy more but I think he folded up shop.


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