Plane & Pilot
Monday, November 2, 2009

Upgrade Your Plane! Part I

Part I: A new exterior

How Long & When?
Expect about three to four weeks of downtime for the paint process. When you understand the scope of work, you’ll appreciate how fast the process is. Summer usually brings aviators out of the woodwork, so if you don’t plan ahead, you may not get your paint job completed until summer is over. If you use a paint shop with an environmentally controlled booth (heat, humidity and dust), the timing of the actual paint job likely matters not. If you decide to go with a budget/open-hangar/paint-when-the-wind- is-blowing-the-right-direction shop, consult a meteorologist, psychic and the Farmer’s Almanac before scheduling your paint work.

What To Consider In A Scheme
There are simple dos and don’ts about choosing a paint scheme. Do consider resale, so don’t go crazy with the colors and scheme to the point where you’re the only person who thinks it’s cool. The beauty of many aircraft is that the design is relatively timeless; meaning that an elegant new paint scheme on a 1960s, ’70s or ’80s vintage Cessna, Beechcraft or Piper can make it look decades newer. And if designing an aircraft paint scheme isn’t your bailiwick, resources like Scheme Designers ( specialize in beautifying aircraft through creative use of line and color.

Also, no matter what the scheme looks like, consider where the stripes fall on the airframe, just in case more significant repairs are required in the future. For example, if multiple stripes cross a wingtip, matching the paint colors and metal flake when repairing hangar rash becomes more of a challenge. The same is true if stripes cross upper and lower cowlings and other potential repair/replacement areas.

Once you make your selection, look at some examples of the finished product. If you intend to drop five figures on paint, you certainly don’t want to suffer buyer’s remorse the day you pick up your plane.

Protect The Finish
Now that you’ve beautified your ride, go one step further—protect its finish in the high-wear areas with a clear protectant film. These clear, flexible, impact-resistant films can be used on the leading edges of wings, struts, wheel pants, door sills and even around key locks where dangling keys can scratch the finish. The film can be purchased in bulk or even in precut sets for specific aircraft. Try AeroTect (

This may be where the rubber meets the runway and what sets a great paint job from a mediocre one. While two or three years seem to be the norm for a paint job, the very best shops offer a full five-year warranty on workmanship. If you’re investing your money on a paint job, why not select a paint shop that’s willing to stand behind its work twice as long as the competition. I guarantee that any shop offering a five-year warranty on paint is likely doing everything possible to ensure your satisfaction through its own superior craftsmanship.

Look for Part II (panel) and Part III (engine) in upcoming issues.

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