What is a Hangar Rat?
You don’t have to be a pilot, own a hangar or airplane to be a Hangar Rat.
Hangar Rats are found at local airports that support GA (General Aviation) airplanes. Occasionally hangar rats can be found in large international airports in line with TSA. You will know them because they are the ones complaining that they should be in a private airplane not having to deal with “pat downs and x-ray machines.” Hangar Rats come in different ages and genders but have all been bitten at some point in their lives by the “aviation bug.” This bug creates an addiction that can only be satisfied by being around airplanes and other Hangar Rats. Individuals with this condition will go to great lengths to feed their addiction.
Hangar Rats will drive, walk, bike or hitch a ride with another hangar rat to their local general aviation airport on their day-off (sometimes they may even sneak-off from their job), and drive slowly around the hangars looking for an open door. This is not because they are looking to steal, damage or cause harm to anyone or anything, they just need to see and hopeful make personal contact with an airplane or airplanes. Being a Hangar Rat is about feeding the addiction.
Hangar Rat researchers are not sure but it may be the smell of 100LL aviation fuel, burning jet fuel, the sound a propeller makes as it cuts through the air, the sound a turbo-prop makes when the pilot reverses the thrust to stop the plane, or the sound of thrust reversers when a business jet is landing at the airport. They are not really sure because even the site and swishing sound made by a glider or high pitch sound of a R/C airplane can send a Hangar Rat scurrying to get as close as they can to the airplane. Hangar Rats also tend to bunch up and tell stories of flying.
Hangar Rats start stories with, “…and there I was.” Many of the stories are told with hands that glide through the air to demonstrate their knowledge of aerodynamics (this can be a risky move when trying to demonstrate the entry into a spin). Hangar Rats love to listen to “Veteran Hangar Rats” who flew military aircraft in war. Hangar Rats listening to the story of a sortie flown against the enemy in a P-51, P-38 or F-4 and can feel the pressure in the seat of their pants and the weightlessness as the “Veteran Hanger Rat” tells how he came over the top to line up on the “Boogies sixes!” Another trait of the Hangar Rat is that they can sniff out food in a hangar or FBO (Fixed Base Operations).
Hangar Rats will sometimes drag their children along with them to the airport in hopes of infecting them with the same bug. One organization of Hangar Rats is the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) that has a program call Young Eagles where they can take youngsters for a ride that will all but guarnatee them to be bit by the avaiation bug. At a hangar or FBO children are introduced to “Pilot fuel”, usually in a donut box (if the donuts and crumbs are not more than a few days old hangar rats will eat them), cookie jar, crackers, etc. to further hook them into coming back. If it is a Saturday, Hangar Rats will check the local or nearby GA airport for fresh food like bacon, eggs, biscuits and gravy, or pancakes. Hangar Rats are always up for hitchhiking a ride in a car or plane to another airport where other Hangar Rats advertise events called, ”Fly-in Breakfast.” This is all done to increase the number of Hangar Rats in General Aviation. If you want to draw in Hangar Rats, just open the hangar door and light the grill!
Hangar Rats are welcome at most private hangars, but some hangar owners don’t care to put up with their questions and glassy-eye looks (these owners are not Hangar Rats themselves and have avoided the aviation bug through some misfortunate thought that airplanes are only for transportation). Conversely, there are Hangar Rat friendly owners that will actually enlist the help of a Hangar Rat to sweep the hangar floor, clean bugs off the plane or polish the glistening aluminum airplane wings and fuselage. Welcome is the Hangar Rat that is courteous, helpful and is a friend of the owner. (CAUTION: Well mannered Hangar Rats ask permission before touching planes, and adults supervise their young ones). In most cases, the Hangar Rat will get their wish and soon be flying with the owner on a flight.
Hangar Rats don’t have to be pilots, however those who are pilots typically give back to the communities through flying. Organizations such as Angel Flight are part of a large collection of certified Hangar Rats in the Air Care Alliance. When patients who cannot fly commercial airlines or drive the distance for treatments, these Hangar Rats donate their aircraft, fuel and skills to help out. The FAA (Federal Aeronautical Authority) has given these Hangar Rats a special call sign when transporting patients: “Compassion Flight” so that controllers can do everything they can to help (that is likely because most Air Traffic Controllers are Hangar Rats too). Beware though, even those who fly airplanes but are not “Certificated FAA Pilots” can be bitten by the “Aviation Bug.”
Hangar Rats who are not FAA Certificated Pilots can be found flying scale model airplanes. Some of them are so skilled at flying their fly-by-wire or R/C (radio controlled) aircraft that they compete with each other in contests. Aircraft flown by these Hangar Rats are piston or turbine powered, and come in fixed-wing or rotary (helicopter) type. Hangar Rats are members of a community of people who love airplanes and fellowshipping with others who love airplanes. Many family members of Hangar Rats join in the events just because they love their Hangar Rat (they just have a hard time admitting they have been bitten).
This weekend, go out to your nearest General Aviation airport (find one near you at: www.airnav.com) and look around. If you run into a Hangar Rat beware that the aviationbug might bite you.