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Thursday, Nov. 4, 2004 04:02 pm

Pieces of Abe

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Greg Gale, aircraft maintenance director for Christian Wings for the World, surveys the hangar dismantling in progress last week at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. The organization removed three rows of T-hangars and hopes to have them reassembled and
Photo by Job Conger

The familiar rows of T-hangars at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport, which for decades provided the first hint of the airport to travelers approaching from Springfield, have been dismantled. The vintage structures, dating from the 1940s, are being recycled for the benefit of other aviation businesses, including a Missouri-based missionary-pilot training school.

The hangars are rows of single-airplane shelters that resemble T's backed up to each other, intermeshed for efficient use of space. They provide room for an airplane's wings at the top of each T and are narrower around the rear fuselage and tail, where less space is needed. Each space, rented to owners of small general-aviation airplanes ranging from Piper Comanches to Ercoupes, has generated revenue for the Springfield Airport Authority, which oversees airport operations.

Eric J. Frankl, the airport's executive director, says that six of the seven T-hangars were built in 1945 and moved from Springfield's Southwest Airport to the new airport in the early '50s. A seventh row of T-hangars was built in the 1970s.

Newer individual aircraft hangars, built in the '90s along the eastern perimeter of the airport and sold to individual owners, have recently been repurchased and are also being dismantled. Once those hangars are removed, paved access roads will be broken up and removed, and the area will be sown with grass seed.

Frankl says the decision to remove the older T-hangars would have been made even without the long-range plan to relocate public access to the airport from the current main entrance. Today the entrance divides the 183rd Fighter Wing hangars from the rest of the airport.

"There was some thought that those hangars could have coexisted with the new entrance, but they were old and expensive to maintain, and it was better to get rid of them," he says. "It was time to upgrade. We wanted to put general-aviation hangars all on one side of the airport. This was really a post-9/11 decision."

People with access to the general-aviation T-hangars also came in close proximity to the airline operations. Relocating general-aviation operations to the southwest quadrant made for better security around the terminal area, and the newer T-hangars reduced maintenance costs. "We wanted to put general-aviation aircraft into an area where they could grow while maximizing space available for corporate aircraft and airline service," says Frankl.

Construction costs (about $5 million) for relocation of the main entrance are being paid by the Air National Guard, which will lease an additional 13 acres south of the Guard's current base perimeter. The area is located to the left of the current entrance road to the airport and east of businesses operating in the 1st Class Air hangar.

"The Department of Defense goes through base evaluations every five years, and [the DOD is doing it now]even though there's a lot of [Air National Guard] construction going on over there right now," Frankl says. "At this point, we're proceeding as though the Guard will stay with us, but you just never know."

Frankl is not certain when the funding will come for the new airport road, and the future of the 183rd at the airport is also uncertain.

"The airport authority notified other general-aviation operations of its plan to remove the old hangars. Anybody willing to dismantle and remove the structures got them for free," he says.

Jacksonville's airport took one row, an operator near Peoria took three, and Christian Wings of the World, a missionary-training enterprise in Ironton, Mo., also took three.

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