New role sought for old hangar

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2011, 12:00am


Rusted and empty, the old Royal Air Force hangar stands obscured by thick undergrowth and high-rises, its wartime role half a century ago remembered only by a few aviation and history buffs trying to prevent it from falling further into obscurity.

'To some it looks like a rusty heap, but it has such potential,' says Cliff Dunnaway, chairman of the Hong Kong Historical Aircraft Association. He and other members of the association want to convert the hangar into a museum of local aviation history.

They have produced a model with visions of glass walls and solar panels on the roof, and hope their museum will house some of the planes and replicas of some of the first aircraft to fly in Hong Kong.

'It would be great if it could be moved next to the Aviation Club,' says Gordon Andreassend, vice-chairman of the association, 'Make it part of what I like to call Kai Tak Corner. It would be most meaningful.'

The Aviation Club sits on the northwest side of the old Kai Tak airport, which was famous for being one of the most challenging landings in the world. The corner also houses the Hong Kong Air Cadets Corps.

Despite repeated suggestions from the club, the hangar's future is unknown, with the MTR Corp's Sha Tin-to-Central link set to pass beneath its foundations near the present Diamond Hill station. The corporation says it is working with the government to dismantle and move the structure temporarily in 2012 but has not said where it would be moved. Its fate, they and the government say, will be decided after a public consultation at an undisclosed date.

An earlier statement on the MTR's website said preliminary structural assessments showed the hangar had corroded badly and contained asbestos, and so would be 'impossible' to restore it to its former state.

Before the start of the second world war, the hangar was closer to the water next to Kai Tak. The British had planned to move it inland to its current site, but were interrupted by the start of the war.

'It was all dismantled and supposed to be moved the day the bombing started on December 8 [1941],' Andreassend says. 'The Japanese shifted it to its current location and used POW labour to build the hangar.'

After the war, the RAF moved back into the hangar, flying the last Spitfires from the base.

It is currently designated a Grade 3 building by the Antiquities and Monuments Office, which means the office believes the structure has some preservation merit.

'There has been talk of a transportation museum at Kai Tak, but I don't know what's happening with that,' Andreassend says. 'Kai Tak corner could be a good spot for it.'