Plane & Pilot
Monday, November 2, 2009

Upgrade Your Plane! Part I

Part I: A new exterior

Good prep work is an indication that you’re going to get a good finished product. A quality paint job is 60% prep work and 40% finish work. The prep work should include a complete chemical strip down to the bare metal or composite surfaces; complete removal of flight control surfaces, wheel pants, cowlings and fairings; and a corrosion inspection. In the upgrade process, I noticed that the following made for a great paint job:

No Overspray: After making certain that whatever can come off does come off, a careful masking job ensures that there will be no signs of unsightly overspray when the package is unwrapped. Brake lines, windows, tires, props, brake calipers, hydraulic cylinders, cables—whatever. If it isn’t designed to be part of the new paint scheme, it needs to be masked so it isn’t part of a residual paint scheme.

Jams & Tight Spots: One other nicety that separates the good, bad and the ugly is finding paint in places you hadn’t expected—that’s paint, not overspray. Naturally, part removal makes it easier to shoot paint into places that rarely see the light of day, such as inside wheel wells and behind flight controls. However, shooting the inside of cabin door jams and baggage areas provides a high-end finished feel. Painting door jams may increase price, so you’ll need to decide if it’s really worth it. (I voted “yes” since I opt to enter and exit through the door every time, and open the baggage door almost as frequently.)

Sprayed-On Wing Walk: The same holds true for the wing walk area on low-wing aircraft. Extra care should be given to this area because you’ll see it every time you enter the aircraft, though it’ll never appear in beauty shots. A clear-textured sprayed-on wing walk allows the beauty of the new paint to shine through while providing the necessary traction over the wing root. Whether you decide to go with clear or traditional black, a sprayed-on wing walk provides a high-end feel.

New Placards: This was a finishing touch that I hadn’t bargained on. Apparently, new placards are required, but I must admit that finding vinyl, die-cut placards for door releases, level points, fuel indications, static ports and more was an unexpected surprise that also adds an excellent high-quality finished feel.

Polished Windows: Due to the risk of doing more harm than good, some paint shops don’t polish windows. Polishing windows may not sound like a big deal, but consider the alternative: You’ve just spent a tidy sum of cash to upgrade the appearance of your aircraft, only to discover that when the masking is removed, your windows reveal the aircraft’s true age. Polishing the windows during the paint process is one of the simple things that’ll make you appreciate the difference between the services of a budget paint facility and a top-tier facility.

Windshield & Window Sealant: Now this was something I did myself, but the hot tip and some basic instruction came from the paint shop. Adding a bead of Pro-Seal or similar product around the windshield and windows helps seal out the elements and is another finishing touch.

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