Approaching Dick Merrill’s wood-frame barn for the first time, you’d not guess it to be a hangar for his 180 Cessna Spirit of Columbus airplane. Helping to disguise it is the bifold door installed in one end wall. Manufactured by Schweiss Doors, it blends in so well, you can hardly detect it.
The 60-foot by 80-foot hangar sits adjacent Merrill’s home in the Smoky Mountains Hensley Airpark, two miles south of Chuckey, TN. The hangar and home are clad with HardiePlank lap siding, as is the 50’ x 15-1/2’ Schweiss bifold liftstrap
door. Other door features and accessories include photo eye sensors, auto latches, a remote opener and an emergency backup power system.
HardiePlank siding, also known as cement board siding, is known to be a low-maintenance, long-lasting material that is both rot and insect resistant. It’s made of 90 percent sand and cement, making it fire resistant and very heavy. Merrill estimates
the bifold door, with its HardiePlank siding over OSB sheathing, weighs approximately 10,000 pounds. The strong liftstraps give him peace of mind, knowing the door is safe and secure. Since he purchased the door, he replaced the cable latch system
with the straplatch system.
“The automatic latch system is great,” Merrill says. “I can sit here in the house with the extra remote and close the door when I want to, and it latches fine. My neighbor has a manual latch and he’s quite happy with that. I like
the fact that the door blends in so well with everything. The best thing I like is the remote and the fact you have to hold the button down to go up and down, eliminating the worry about it coming down on something.”
His wife, Ginger, designed the hangar along with the contractor, Smucker Builders of Chuckey, to put the crossbuck doors on it.
“Most of the barns around here don’t have any paint on them,” Merrill says. “The bifold door came with a stronger frame because we were going to put Hardie board on it. With the five strong straps, I figure I can walk under it
with no problem. We built the hangar bigger than it really needed to be when one of the guys said, ‘Build it bigger than you think you want because you’ll grow into it.’”
Merrill says he was tempted to get a Schweiss hydraulic door, but decided to go with the bifold door which allows him to park closer to it. He briefly considered a door from another manufacturer, but wasn’t impressed.
“What sold me on Schweiss Doors was when I was at an airport in Fredericksburg, Texas, some years ago,” he says. “The 180 Club had a fly-in there and they had put in a new string of T-hangars that all had bifold doors with straps. It
looked like a so-much better idea. Their doors got used pretty heavily. I’ve been to Oshkosh and talked to Schweiss there.”
Merrill purchased his Cessna 180 used in 1980. He has since applied the paint scheme to his plane to match the original Spirit of Columbus, a 1953 Cessna 180 that became famous when Geraldine “Jerrie” Fredritz Mock piloted it as the first
American woman to make the solo flight around world in 1964. That plane has since been featured at the Smithsonian Institute and other notable places.
Merrill painted the plane like the original Spirit of Columbus after obtaining Mock’s permission. She’d asked to see it when it was finished but she unfortunately passed away before he had the chance to show it to her. Her family asked Merrill
to participate in the scattering of Mock’s ashes from his plane over the Gulf of Mexico.
A story about Mock and Merrill, and the replica Spirit of Columbus, was published in the March/April 2016 edition of Vintage Aircraft Magazine. To read it, click here: http://eaavintage.org/spirit-of-columbus/.