Erecting a hangar in Brighton, CO

by Eric Erb

I was the erector not the GC on this building. I arrived with a slab and an unloaded building ready to go. The GC was in Louisiana and took the prints with him. SteelBuildingSupplier was very helpful in supplying us with new prints for our Rapidset building. We began mid summer and couldn’t have picked a better day, 8:00am, 65°, a light breeze, and not a cloud in sight. With the boom forklift we rented we had the Columns up with the girts and cable braces before lunch. As we bolted the rafters together at their eaves and began lifting them into place, the sky began to fill with clouds. It wasn’t until we had bolted one side of the second set of rafters that the wind began picking up. The weather worsened and we scrambled to bolt the other side and a couple purlins for support. We watched from another hangar on the property as Mother Nature tested our construction. As the wind picked up our under-supported rafters waved violently. We decided to raise the scissor lift against the underside of one of the rafters for support. Happily, I did not draw the short straw, and enjoyed watching as one of our guys drove a scissor lift at 1mph through the hail and successfully braced our building. The property owner had warned us of the unexpected storms that sneak up in Brighton, CO. I suppose the fact that it happened on Day One should have forewarned me of what was to come.


The next morning we began by bolting the rest of the purlins in that first bay, just in case the weather turned again. It was hot and windy that day but we were glad to see the ground dry up before we fired up the forklift. Day two was without incident and we had the endwall and third bay standing and braced by quitting time.

The home owner, a commercial pilot, was nice enough to allow us use of his house while he was away. He arrived at home that third day to find us sitting in his old hangar watching the rain. To say he was pleased with the work we had done so far was an understatement. The building sat on his property for four months before construction began. He was less than satisfied by the GCs performance, especially because he was told the project would take about two months from start to finish. After reviewing the radar maps of the weather system effecting us and attempting to explain several weather phenomena at work he told us the weather would not be clearing up anytime soon and treated my whole team to lunch, a movie, and dinner in the nearby town.

By the end of the week we had finished the red iron and frame of the hangar door. Admittedly, this was my first hangar. 99% of erecting a hangar is the same as any Rapidset building, but the thought of being responsible for this incredibly heavy door rising above people and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of aircraft made me very nervous. The frame arrived from Schweiss in two pieces, which, after being positioned, took only minutes to assemble. The forklift raised it into place and we bolted in the hinges at the top, simple enough. Given the unpredictable weather, we lashed the sides of the frame to the columns it rides on.

The second week was spent getting the hangar ready for insulation and sheeting. We bolted in the walk doors, framed openings, and the welder came out to weld on the brackets for the “auto closer” for the Schweiss door as well as the hinges.

The insulation and wall sheeting began going up the third week. Intermittent wind made for a particularly slow and frustrating experience. Twice, a gust of wind ripped off our strip of insulation before we could get the sheeting over it. We found that a pair of Vice-Grip clamps worked well at holding the top of the insulation in place. The end of the week arrived with another storm.  Once again not forecasted and once again catching us off guard. We were on the verge of finishing the sheeting on the main walls when it hit us. The site was pelted with golf ball sized hail and high winds. We watched as a vortex passed overhead. The tornado touched down just a mile away. We watched news reports of the tornado and its destruction. The town nearby received six inches of hail. The news showed people shoveling driveways in shorts and t-shirts. Another nearby town was bombarded with baseball to grapefruit sized hail, which resulted in many “Hail Sales” at car dealerships across central Colorado.

Damage at our site was minimal. The insulation we were unable to cover in time was torn loose and relocated to several trees in the neighbor’s yard.  After the storm passed we hung it from a purlin and it was completely dry a couple days later.

The next week’s weather was hot and humid. The problems that week were courtesy of the boom lift we had rented to help with the sheeting. When the first boom lift arrived on site it never even left the truck. The rental company couldn’t get it started so they promptly delivered another one to the site. A few days later this lift started to die. We had a couple guys suspended twenty feet in the air and the engine stopped and the boom controls didn’t function even in battery mode. The rental company told us the problem was probably due to an overheating hydraulic pump and to put a sprinkler in the engine compartment and let that slowly run as we worked. Skeptically I did just that and it seemed to do the trick because it died less frequently and took less time to get it going again when it did die.

We had a string of still and dry days leading up to working on the roof. So we made the poor decision to roll out the first two rolls of insulation over the roof before sheeting it. It wasn’t thirty seconds after we unrolled the second roll of insulation over the roof that a gust of wind came. I swear it was the only wind all day and it came just to blow our insulation to the ground. We continued on, only rolling out the insulation we could immediately cover and the rest of the roof sheeting went smoothly.  The owner was afraid the insulation would begin to sag in the years to come and had us install steel strapping over the purlins every two feet. Although it was incredibly tedious and probably decreased the R value of the insulation, it made for a very smooth looking finish inside.

I began assembling the rest of the components on the Schweiss Bi-fold door while the rest of the guys worked on. The most complicated part of finishing the door was fixing the damage done by the GC when he unloaded it. A piece of tubing in the center was badly bent and took quite a bit of work to bend back into place. The straps were easy to install and properly tension. The motor bolted up perfectly, wiring it into the control box was straightforward. I’m pretty sure I didn't breath the first time I hit the button to raise the door. My heart stopped when the roller on the door bounced over a weld, but all went as it should and I ground down that weld as soon as door was back down. The wind brace didn't fully pull in the door the first time but after adding a bit more tension it worked wonderfully. Positioning the limit switches in the motor control box was very simple also... Raise the door to the height you want it to stop at and set that one, lower the door until the “auto-lock” engages and set the bottom one. Shortly after we were hit by the final storm on the job. Everyone but me had left for lunch when the site was hit by a micro-burst. Pieces of sheeting where violently thrown around the site. One sheet went right through the fiberglass door of an old hangar. The winds damaged many houses and hangars in the airpark but the Rapidset Hangar was unscathed.

The owner moved his planes in while we trimmed out the building and installed the windows. The electrician still had not run the conduit for the lights and door so I advised him to wait but in the end no damage was done to the planes. We finished the trim out late one night and so stayed one final night in the owner’s home. The next morning he woke all of us at 6:00am to celebrate his new hangar with a flight through the mountains just west of Denver. The perfect way to finish this job wrought with troubles... on a high note.