Plane & Pilot
Friday, July 1, 2005

Wing Dings

Smoothing out those unwanted dents may have gotten easier

It’s a problem most of us with metal airplanes face at one time or another—dings, those small dents that seem to go hand in hand with owning an aluminum flying machine. Unless you own a wood-and-fabric airplane, you’re almost bound to develop some minor dings in your airplane’s aluminum surfaces. Rag and spruce designs aren’t totally immune from hangar rash, but almost. In my early flying days, I owned a succession of wood-and-fabric Bellanca Cruisemasters, and I never had to worry about dents. The stretched, doped fabric on my Bellancas resisted most reasonable impacts and some unreasonable ones.

(In the early ’80s, a Bellanca salesman used to carry a large, solid-steel ball-bearing with him on demos. He asked prospects what would happen if he dropped it from five or six feet up onto a metal-wing surface. Then, before they could answer, he’d throw the steel ball against the side of his Viking 300 demonstrator. Of course, the ball would merely bounce off the tightly stretched Ceconite fabric with no ill effects. Any metal airplane would have suffered serious and extremely expensive damage.)

Inevitably, I moved on, and my last two airplanes have been all-aluminum Turbo Mooneys. I’ve kept most of my airplanes in an oversized T-hangar, and yes, there are other things stored there, but it’s not terribly crowded with junk (depending upon who you ask).

Still, a few minor dents appear seemingly out of thin air; I’ve rarely seen one in the making. I’ll go on a trip with the Mooney, come home and sure enough, there’s a new ding.

Most of the time, it’s best to just forget about getting them fixed. You can’t simply fill an aircraft dent with putty, sand the surface smooth and paint as you might with an automobile. There are considerations of weight, aerodynamics and balance involved, and that usually means the only acceptable method of repair is to pull the entire skin, rivet a new one into place and repaint. You don’t want to know what that costs.


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