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The Bellman Hangar was designed in 1936 by the 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. Commercial manufacturing rights were acquired by Head Wrightson & Co of Teesdale Iron Works, Thornaby-on-Tees. By November 1938, 10 had even been supplied to Russia.

Origins of Transportable Hangars

During World War One and for some time after, the only successful transportable hangar design was the Bessonneau. This could be very quickly erected and secured to provide adequate shelter for a few small aeroplanes. But with post-war increases in the number and size of aeroplanes, the need for larger transportable accommodation soon became apparent. The Air Ministry therefore issued a specification in 1936 covering the dimensions and requirements for a light transportable shed for use in war. It had to be end-opening with doors at both ends, be capable of mass production and have interchangeable parts to permit rapid erection and dismantling with minimal permanent foundations. This specification was submitted to various designers and eventually two different designs were presented - the Bellman and the Callender Hangar.

An example of each was erected at two demonstration sites (airfields) in the north-east: at RAF Thornaby an Air Ministry design was built (later to be known as the Bellman hangar) and at RAF Usworth a Callender Cable & Construction design was built (later to be known as the Callender-Hamilton hangar). Eventually, in 1938, the Bellman design was chosen as the standard Air Ministry wartime transportable shed, but Callender-Hamilton hangars were also purchased in small numbers for Royal Naval Air Stations until superseded by a new hangar type in 1943.

Construction

The Bellman hangar was constructed on a unit system of rolled steel sections, both walls and roof using the same standard units joined at the junction of wall and roof by a standard corner unit. The time taken for 12 men to erect the hangar at Thornaby, including levelling the ground, laying door tracks, erecting the steelwork, and fitting oiled canvas Callender doors, was 500 man-hours. Two light jib derricks using timber poles were required to erect the fabricated and side members. The roof trusses were assembled on the ground before being lifted into position.

As a result of the bad winter of 1937 when a number of Bellman hangars at Thornaby were damaged after a heavy to severe fall of snow, production Bellmans were modified slightly to have steel-framed and steel-clad doors.

During the period 1938-40 some 400 Bellman hangars were built in the UK, some 230 others were manufactured in Australia and presumably more were produced under licence in other Commonwealth countries too. Pre-war examples are known to have been built at Brooklands (one for Hawker Aircraft Ltd was supplied by January 1939) and at Croydon Airport (one was provided there for the Air Ministry).

Bellmans proved to be invaluable in the early part of the war and met an increasing demand not only to supplement permanent hangars, but also to provide the total hangar requirements for many temporary Armament Training, Elementary Flying Training, and Air Navigation Schools.

Hangars were purchased in bulk and in 1938 a central parts, storage depot was established at No. 3 MU at Milton, Oxfordshire. The parts for 40 Bellmans were stored in two specially built Bellman sheds for issue in the event of war. When all the hangars had been dispatched, these sheds were used for storing spare parts.

Surviving Examples in the UK

There are believed to be about 100 Bellman hangars still in RAF/MoD service in the UK - including Chivenor, Cosford and St Athan airfields.

Just two are currently preserved in UK aircraft museums - one at AeroVenture near Doncaster, South Yorkshire and another at Brooklands Museum in Surrey. The latter was designated a Grade 2 Listed building in 1999, was one of ten erected at Brooklands between 1938 and 1944 and is now the UK's only Listed example.

Others survive at UK civil airfields such as Booker(4), Fairwood Common (Swansea Airport) (1), Halfpenny Green, Stoke Orchard (1) and White Waltham (2). Further survivors can be found away from airfields in a variety of alternative uses.

Bellman Hangars in Australia

Bellmans were also produced in Australia from c.1939 – 1945. They are often stated to have been made by Lysaght, but a recent history on Comeng (Commonwealth Engineering) reports that that Waddington Engineering made over 200 Bellmans of a total of 283 ordered by the Air Ministry in Australia. They were designed as easily transportable, temporary hangars which could be erected using unskilled labour. They were used on war-time airfields constructed across Australia, particularly training airfields.

  • RAAF Base Wagga (Forest Hill) has some 14 surviving Bellman Hangars.
  • One survives at Maryborough Airport, Queensland.
  • About six were at Tottenham RAAF stores - but may have been removed by now.
  • At least three were at Point Cook (RAAF Williams).
  • Three at Fishermen's Bend (Victoria) at the site of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation factory. These are believed to be about to be demolished (April 2007).
  • One at Benalla Airport,(Victoria)
  • Two at RAAF Base Townsville, re-clad
  • One at RAAF Base Fairbairn, Canberra Airport
  • Three at Macrossan Stores Depot near Charters Towers (Queensland)
  • One at Jezzine Barracks, Townsville
  • Three at Parafield Airport, Adelaide, two re-clad, but one which houses the Classic Jets Fighter Museum is in original condition
  • Two in the General Aviation area at Cairns Airport, one which houses the North Queensland Aero Club in near-original condition, another housing Skytrans, more altered
  • One at Mount Gambier Airport, re-clad
  • One at Port Pirie Airport, in original condition
  • Four at HMAS Albatross (air station) believed erected when used by the RAAF in 1944
  • One at the Army Aviation Centre, Oakey (Queensland)
  • One owned by the Darling Downs Aero Club [1] at Toowoomba (Queensland)

References

  • Air Publication 3236 (1956) ‘WORKS - The Second World War 1939-1945 Royal Air Force’, Issued by Air Ministry (AHB).
  • World War II Hangars -Guide to Hangar Identification Technical Bulletin 02/02, Defence Estates, Ministry of Defence UK, 2002
  • Francis, P. 1996 British Military Airfield Architecture: from Airships to the Jet Age. Yeovil: Patrick Stephens Limited (pp100-101)
  • Royal Air Force maintenance manual for Bellman hangars <http://www.defence-estates.mod.uk/publications/functional_standards/01_bellman_hangars.pdf>
  • Dunn John, 2006 Comeng: A History of Commonwealth Engineering, Rosenberg Publishing, p68
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