Kai Tak's first steel hangar [1932-1941]

Submitted by David on Mon, 02/13/2017 - 16:11
Current condition
Demolished / No longer exists
Date completed
(Day & Month are approximate.)
Date closed / demolished
(Day is approximate.)

The hangar was completed in 1932, and stood at the SE corner of the airfield. It was dismantled in 1941, and was still in its dismantled condition when the Japanese attacked in December. The materials were used by the Japanese to build another hangar, that still exists today in Diamond Hill.

IDJ sent in the following information from the files of the Hong Kong Historical Aircraft Association:

KAI TAK’s First Hanger
From ‘THE BUILDER’ Journal
As reported in the SCMP dated 5 April 1932

Below is given a description of the new civil hangar, at Kai Tak aerodrome, the building of which has recently been completed, and which is now being used, together with an indication of what the provision of the hangar and first-class alighting areas on land and sea will mean in the establishment of air services and the encouragement of private flying locally. As far as landplane flying is concerned all that remains to be done is to finish off the ground work by provision of landing fees, guiding lights for night flying and such-like equipment, and a certain amount of work has yet to be done to provide every convenience for seaplanes and lying boats, although such aircraft can now be dealt with under temporary arrangements. It will be but a short time now before Hong Kong will be able to boast of having one of the biggest and most up-to-date civil airports for both landplanes and flying boats in the world, but as it has been stated before in these columns, one of the prime necessities to ensure the success of the air port is the provision of facilities for housing machines and providing means of ground maintenance. That the local authorities have appreciated the necessity for this is evidenced in the building of the magnificent new hanger which has recently been completed and which is illustrated in a picture appearing on this page.


The building is of particular interest to Hong Kong because it is the first of its kind that has ever been built here and is one of the largest and most modern in the world. Embodying all that the latest scientific and building research can give, and being built entirely of British material throughout, this hangar, which took something like twelve months to build and will house 40 machines, is a structure of which the Colony can be proud, and which will prove a great advantage to future commercial aviation companies who have a businesslike eye on picking their ports of call where they can be sure of obtaining the workshop facilities necessary for the maintenance of commercial aircraft to the standard required by the extremely strict Air Ministry regulations.


Not only from the commercial point of view will the hangar and huge area of land and water attract, but should also stimulate private flying. Learning private-owners on either land or sea-planes, will be able to do their early solo flights with the happy knowledge that there is practically an unlimited area on which to land—a most important safety factor with beginners.  In addition, for a monthly sum, private machine can be serviced and kept 100% efficient without the owner ever touching a spanner, by the Far East Aviation Company Ltd who has already established ground service. Both commercial and private pilots will be able to avail themselves of complete and efficient ground organisation which means far more from the aviation viewpoint than the average man in the street realises.


The new hangar is situated at the eastern end of the aerodrome, close to the seaplane slipway which was constructed before the hangar was commenced, thus keeping the centre of activities close to seaplane and flying boat anchorages. The area of the whole aerodrome approximates 160 acres of ground, the largest portion of which has been reclaimed and which has now been planted with grass sods, so that at some future date the whole area should be grassed over. Measuring 135 feet by 250 feet, the hanger itself is divided into two sections by a dividing partition, each section measuring 125 feet by 125 feet. The steelwork was provided by Dorman Long (who were also contractors for the SydneyBridge) and weights 450 tons.

40,000 RIVETS

Something of the structure of the place can, perhaps be appreciated when it is explained that no less than 40,000 rivets and 27,000 bolts were used. The foundations are carried on 172 piles of lengths varying from nine feet to sixty-four feet, these being driven by Messrs Vibro Piling Company.

As regards the roof, it is carried by sixteen trusses and of each which weigh more than nine tons and having a clear span of the full width of the building--135 feet. One of the features of the hangar is the ease in which the huge sliding doors at both ends can be opened and closed by one man—one might almost say--by even a child. There are four sliding doors at each end of the hangar, each being 30 feet by 30 feet and each weighing no less than six and a half tons. With these doors fully rolled back, the whole width of the hangar is available for machines to enter and leave.


On the bottoms of the doors are fitted wheels which run on rails, and by a very accurate balance obtained by the construction of the doors, together with carefully laid rails, a person has only to wind a geared crank handle—a job that can be done comfortably with one hand—to make the doors slide smoothly and effortlessly open.


Robertson Protected Metal Gauge 22# (black finish to weather and aluminium inside) covers all the steelwork. There are many types of Flashings also of this material—Gable and Eaves trim, Corrugation Closers, Corner, Door Hood, and Sill Flashings in a variety of shapes and girths. The total weight of the Robertson products is 106 tons and the material if laid end to end would stretch ten miles; 85,000 bolts are used in fixing. Nearly two acres of Robertson sheeting were used. The feature of its roofing is its rigidity as shown by its capability of carrying the 6 inch rain water pipes from the main roof across the Annexe roofs. Messrs Davie Boag & Co Ltd, are agents for the Far East. Black is the colour in which the exterior of the hangar has been finished, but, inside aluminium colour has been employed, this being with the object of improving interior lighting and getting the maximum illumination possible.


Along each side of the hangar, and being part and parcel of the main building, can be found private accommodation for offices, workshops etc, thus enabling those connected with commercial aviation to be on the spot. The offices vary in size from 16 feet square to 16 feet by 21 feet, and they are already equipped with electric light and a ceiling fan. A telephone system is shortly to be installed which will enable all offices, workshops and sections to have a telephone number. In these offices and workshops a protective ceiling of Celotex sheeting has been used, the local agents for Celotex being Messrs Shewan Tomes and Company.


The great care necessary for laying a floor in a hangar has been duly observed at Kai Tak, the floor of the hangar being built up with concrete, laid in blocks five feet square, the floor has been continued out of the hangar at each end, forming two “ramps” each 50 feet wide. These are for the purpose of enabling machines to be wheeled out of the hangar and onto the “ramp”, so that engines can be warmed up in the open and open-air work done on the machine if desired.


 Beyond the “ramps” has been laid a tarmac road, 100 feet wide, which extends around three sides of the hangar, thus enabling machines, no matter how heavy they may be wheeled onto hard surfaces either on the aerodrome in the case of land machines or to the slipway in the case of  flying boats and seaplanes.

Compiler’s note:

This hangar was first mentioned in the SCMP in 1930/311 as being under construction. The design is probably that of a standard UK Air Ministry hangar as used by the Royal Air Force on its bases.  A term sometimes used refers to it as being a “Bellman Hangar” which is incorrect. The Bellman Hangar was designed much later in 1936 by the UK government’s Directorate of Works structural engineer, N. S. Bellman, as a temporary hangar capable of being erected or dismantled by unskilled labour with simple equipment and to be easily transportable. The commercial manufacturing rights were acquired by Head Wrightson & Co of Teesdale Iron Works, Thornaby-on-Tees, UK, a local rival to Dorman Long Ltd.

Initially Kai Tak’s first steel hangar was shared with civilian aircraft and operators until another similar hangar with a control tower was built at the west end of the airport, when it then became known as the RAF hangar.

This hangar was dismantled in June 1941 as it was in the way of a projected hard surface runway. An official 1941 map showing the proposed new runway layout for the airport exists, (in the UK National Archives).

The dismantled hangar’s materials were lying on the Kai Tak site when the Japanese attacked Hong Kong. The local Chinese contractor Fook Lee & Company Ltd who conducted the dismantling work did not get paid until 1946, (claims payment notification document is in the UKNational Archives).

When the Japanese cleared an area of Kowloon City to extend the airport in 1942 they also cleared the civil hanger from its site adjacent to the Kai Tak Bund housing which was also demolished.  The Japanese, using POW labour then extended the airfield east and north and built two hard surface runways on basically the same alignments that the British had intended in their pre-war plans. The Japanese using materials available to them from the two hangars, erected a hangar surrounded on three sides by a protective earth bund in the north-east corner of the extended airport’s boundary. After the war the RAF used it until the airport boundaries changed yet again with the opening of the new runway extending out to sea in the 1958. Today it is known as the RAF hangar and can be seen in December 2011 partially hidden in the trees next to Diamond Hill MTR station beyond the left-hand side of the path leading from Exit ‘A’, but it cannot easily be visited. Those who have visited the hangar (see earlier posts and pictures) have captured images showing that the structural steel is British from the Dorman Long company as indicated in THE BUILDER journal report, and that the described door operating mechanisms are still in place, but now heavily rusted up. However, the hangar is not the depth of the originals, but only about a quarter or third of their original lengths.

The hangar is sitting on land reserved for the MTR’s Shatin to Central link so its future is in doubt.

Photos that show this Place