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Hangar 1 Naval Air Station Moffett Field, Sunnyvale California

Moffett Field's "Hangar One" (built during the Depression era for the USS Macon) and the row of World War II blimp hangars are still some of the largest unsupported structures in the country. The airship hangar is constructed on a network of steel girders sheathed with galvanized steel. It rests firmly upon a reinforced pad anchored to concrete pilings. The floor covers eight acres (32,000 mē) and can accommodate 10 football fields. The airship hangar measures 1,133 feet (343 m) long and 308 feet (93 m) wide. The building has aerodynamic architecture. Its walls curve upward and inward, to form an elongated dome 198 feet (60 m) high. The clam-shell doors were designed to reduce turbulence when the Macon moved in and out on windy days. The "orange peel" doors, weighing 200 tons (204.75 tons) each, are moved by their own 150 horsepower motors operated via an electrical control panel.

The airship hangar's interior is so large that fog sometimes forms near the ceiling. A person unaccustomed to its vastness is susceptible to optical disorientation. Looking across its deck, planes and tractors look like toys. Along its length maintenance shops, inspection laboratories and offices help keep the hangar busy. Looking up, a network of catwalks for access to all parts of the structure can be seen. Two elevators meet near the top, allowing maintenance personnel to get to the top quickly and easily. Narrow gauge tracks run through the length of the hangar. During the lighter-than-air period of dirigibles and non-rigid aircraft, the rails extended across the apron and into the fields at each end of the hangar. This tramway facilitated the transportation of an airship on the mooring mast to the airship hangar interior or to the flight position. During the brief period that the Macon was based at Moffett, Hangar One accommodated not only the giant airship but several smaller non-rigid lighter-than-air craft simultaneously.

Hangar One today is the center of a spirited debate over its own future. Plans to convert it to a space and science center have been put on hold with the discovery in 2003 that the structure is leaking toxic chemicals into the sediment in wetlands bordering San Francisco bay. The chemicals originate in the lead paint and toxic materials, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), used to coat the hangar. The issue under debate is whether to tear down the hangar and reuse the land, or to clean the toxic waste from the site and refurbish the hangar for future preservation.

The US Navy is evaluating options for remediating the PCBs, lead and asbestos. NASA is evaluating options for reuse of the hangar. Some historic and nonprofit groups would like the hangar preserved as a historic landmark, however, as the hangar is a major bay area landmark and historic site. In 2006, an offer to clean the hangar and coat its outsides with solar panels to recoup the costs of cleaning was floated by a private company, but the plan never saw fruition because it was too costly.

In August 2008, the Navy proposed to simply strip the toxic coating from the hangar and leave the skeleton, after spraying it with a preservative. The Navy claimed that to re-clad the structure would cost another $15 million and that this is NASA's responsibility. This was regarded as a partial victory by campaigners.

In September 2008, NASA indicated that it was still urging the Navy to restore the hangar, but that it is willing to help save the structure; in particular, NASA is in favor of re-covering the structure at the same time as it is stripped.

An episode of the Discovery Channel TV show MythBusters utilized one of the smaller hangars to disprove the myth that it is not possible to fold a sheet of paper in half more than seven times. The sheet of paper covered nearly the full width of the airship hangar. Other episodes of Mythbusters have utilized the hangar to test myths such as "Inflating a football with helium allows longer kick distances" and "Airworthy aircraft can be constructed of concrete."

Moffett Field Links

Moffett Field Museum    |   NASA AMES    |    National Park Service   |    Mountain View Voice