Born of war-time necessity, the all-wood hangar that houses the Arkansas Air Museum is as famous as the aircraft and memorabilia stored within. Built in 1943 by the city of Fayetteville to shelter the University of Arkansas' College Training Detachment aircraft, the "White Hangar" as it was known locally served as the home of Scheduled Skyways, one of the nation's first commuter airlines, the Drake Field airport manager's office, and a fixed-base operator, Fayetteville Flying Service.
The desire for structure to protect the Piper J-3 Cubs and Taylorcraft L-2As and house the offices of the 305th CTD started March 1941 when the building that served as the detachment's headquarters burned to the ground at then Fayetteville Field. A larger office and workshop was built to serve the 305th, but with the rapid expansion of pilot training after America's entry into the Second World War, the War Department expressed a desire for a building that could protect the 40 or so trainers stationed at Fayetteville.
The obvious choice was a metal hangar, but war-time shortages precluded the extensive use of metal. In stepped Henry George, the city of Fayetteville's assistant engineer, who proposed to use a material in great abundance in the Ozarks -- wood. Scoffed at as folly, George built a scale model from balsa wood to silence critics. With a crew that numbered no more than eight, George began construction on May 1, 1943.
The spacious 100' x 150' hangar is supported by eleven hand-assembled eight-foot wide beams. The beams were constructed from 2x8 and 2x6 timbers, curved and internally-braced. Adding to the home-built mystique, most of the metal parts -- rivets, rollers, nails, pipes, etc. -- were scavenged from area barns, junk yards and buildings. The hangar doors were George's crowning achievement. The rails and hardware were salvage. Considered a technical miracle for the 1940s, the sixteen 400-pound doors -- eight 10x16 sections to a side -- would roll back for an unobstructed 16x80 opening on each end. Wings were built the length of the hangar on each side to provide office and workshop space.
Built for a total cost of $15,000, the White Hangar was officially dedicated on June 28, 1944. The spaciousness of the hangar was proven that weekend as 41 J-3 Cubs were placed wing-to-tail inside the main structure. Unfortunately two days later, the main purpose for the city of Fayetteville's investment -- the CTD unit -- pulled out of Fayetteville. The War Department announced in March that the College Training Detachment for the U. S. Army Air Force would cease to exist.
While the main tenant was gone, the city was not left with a white elephant. In fact, the White Hangar has not gone without a major purpose in the northwest Arkansas economy for any lengthy period of time. From 1949 to 1962, it was the hub of Fayetteville Field with the airport manager's office, Fayetteville Flying Service and the Fayetteville Flight Service Station. Starting in 1953 until 1985, it was the headquarters of SCAT -- South Central Air Transport -- which was the forerunner of Scheduled Skyways.
Undergoing a $150,000 renovation in 1986 to mark the Arkansas Sesquicentennial, the White Hangar became the Arkansas Aviation Museum. The unique wooden structure marked its 50th anniversary in 1994, and was nominated by local citizens for the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, the necessary 1986 renovation caused it to be ineligible for listing on the National Register, mostly due to the modern siding applied on top of the wooden exterior wings.