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Aircraft finishes are important, not only for the attractive appearance they give the aircraft, but for the protection
they afford the lightweight, highly reactive composites, metals, and fabrics from which the structure is covered
and made. When an airplane leaves the factory, it has been given a finish that is both decorative and protective.
It is the responsibility of maintenance personnel to see that the finish is maintained in such a way that it will keep
its beauty and continue this protection. If the airplane is to be refinished, the technician must properly prepare
the surface and apply a new finish that will protect at least as well as the original. Finishing and refinishing oper-
ations consist of many different materials and techniques for applying the protective covering. Some material is
sprayed, some brushed or dipped, and some is attracted to the surface of the aircraft via an electrical charge, a
process called electroplating. There are almost as many different methods of application as there are materials to
apply. Apply each material according to the manufacturer's instructions to obtain the best possible finish and the
greatest possible protection.

If the dope film becomes brittle and cracks but the
fabric is still good, the finish may be rejuvenated and
new topcoats applied. The first step is to scrub the
old finish with Scotch-Brite pads and plenty of
water. Any wax on the surface should be scrubbed
with a rag that is dampened with an appropriate sol-
Chapter 5 of this text detailed fabric covering, and vent. Dry the surface completely, then spray on a
this chapter will examine the finishing process for good wet coat of rejuvenator thinned with some
fabric materials. Although fabric-covered aircraft butyrate dope thinner. Rejuvenator is essentially a
constitute a small percentage of the aircraft that mixture of potent solvents and plasticizers. Solvents
require refinishing, technicians should still be soften the dried dope film, keeping it permeable long
aware of the finishing systems that are available. enough for the plasticizers to become part of the film.
The types of fabric that are used today and the
methods used for their application were discussed The first coat of rejuvenator causes the fabric to
in detail in Chapter 5. The discussion centered on loosen, but a second coat pulls it back taut. Sand the
how the fabric is installed and protected by layers of surface and check carefully to be sure that the dope
dope that contain fungicide and aluminum paste, film has filled the cracks completely. Wash off the
which are followed by a more decorative finish. sanding residue from the surface and then spray on
This section will concentrate on the finishing sys- a good wet cross-coat of aluminum pigmented
tem's esthetic properties that give aircraft a pleasing butyrate dope. Wet sand the aluminum dope, wash
and durable finish, rather than the airworthiness of off the residue, and apply a new topcoat.
the covering.
DOPE FINISH Spray on the finish coats of dope as heavily as pos-
The traditional dope finish for an aircraft is one of sible without the dope running or sagging. If lighter
the easiest to apply and requires the least experience coats are all that conditions permit, apply several
and equipment to do a satisfactory job, but it has a top coats in order to fill the weave of the fabric and
drawback of being prone to cracking. Except for produce a smooth finish. In order to build a film
those striving for an authentic finish on a restored with a minimum number of coats, use a pressure
aircraft, cracking causes refinishers to consider some pot instead of a suction-cup-type spray gun. More
of the newer systems. There is now a wide selection dope can be applied with less thinner. [Figure 6-1]
of finishing systems for fabric-covered aircraft, as
opposed to being limited only to nitrate or butyrate
dope. New systems are far more durable and more
attractive. However, some STC systems require the
use of compatible paint or finishing products, essen-
tially limiting the choice of topcoats.

Continuous flexing of fabric covering also requires

the finish to be flexible or it will crack easily. To
obtain flexibility in a dope film, manufacturers use
a plasticizer, such as castor oil, tricresyl phosphate,
or one of the more modern vinyl resins. Plasticizers Figure 6-1. A well-applied finish to a fabric-covered struc-
have a tendency to migrate out of the dope film, and ture is not only pleasing to the eye but protects the fabric
after a period of time the film becomes brittle. If from the elements.
struck with a rock or if someone pushes against it,
the protective film will crack, usually in a ringworm
form. Sunlight and moisture can get to the fabric
and cause it to lose strength prematurely. While
making the film flexible, plasticizers also make it
soft enough so that it can be abraded by sand or
attacked by chemical fumes.
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-3

Mix the final coat of pigmented dope with about 20%

clear dope to get a glossier finish. Use less than about
20% of clear dope because the ultraviolet rays of the
sun will degrade it if not protected by the pigmented
dope and the surface will soon become dull and
chalky looking. Prevent UV damage by adding Ultra
Violet blocker to the topcoats of paint. Chemical
blockers are much less effective than the aluminum
dope coats. Substitute retarder for some of the thin-
ner to achieve a sheen or gloss. Spray on a number of
very thin coats of the pigmented dope and wet-sand
it with 600-grit sandpaper between each coat to get a
deep gloss finish. After the finish has dried for at
least a month, hand-rub it with rubbing compound Figure 6-2. Moisture condensing from the air onto the sur-
face of the fresh dope can cause the dope to blush. Blushed
and wax. dope is not as strong as a normal finish.

DIFFICULTIES WITH DOPE The cure for blushing is to prevent water from con-
Dope and fabric finishing can be difficult to apply. densing out of the air. If the conditions are not too
Changing conditions in humidity and temperature severe, use some retarder in the dope to slow down
can cause problems with equipment settings and the evaporation and prevent the temperature drop
chemical makeup. Quickly diagnose any problems that causes blushing. Even better, lower the relative
during the finishing process. Unfortunately, in some humidity by warming the air so that it will hold the
cases the problem won't manifest itself until a period moisture in its vapor form. In practice, if a surface is
of time after the finish coats have been applied. starting to blush, wait for more favorable conditions.

DOPE ADHESION If the dope has blushed, but not too severely,
Proper surface preparation is imperative to good remove it by spraying on a mixture of one part
dope adhesion. All paint or enamel must be retarder and two parts thinner in a light mist coat.
removed before the application of dope because Allow it to dry and spray on another coat. This
dope softens them and causes loss of adhesion. should melt the blushed surface film and allow it to
Spraying nitrate dope over butyrate dope can some- re-form in a smooth and glossy manner. If this treat-
times cause the dope film of the topcoat to peel off, ment does not remove the blush, sand off the sur-
coming off in strips. Solvents in the nitrate dope are face and respray when the weather conditions are
not strong enough to penetrate the film formed by more favorable.
the butyrate, which results in a weak bond.
Dope is composed of the dry solids that remain on
Topcoats may also peel off if there is too much alu- the surface, as well as the thinners and solvents that
minum powder in the aluminum dope coats. Use evaporate when the liquid changes to a vapor. If the
only a thin layer of aluminum dope to keep the sun- dope film is exposed to too much heat or wind, the
light from degrading the dope and the fabric under
surface can become hardened to the point that
it. If a trace of aluminum powder can be found on vapors cannot easily escape from the surface but
one's fingers when the aluminum doped surface is join to form large bubbles. Bubbles that punch
rubbed, then the layer is too thick and the topcoats through the film that forms on the surface leave a
may fail to adhere.
crater or a pinhole. Excessively atomized air on the
spray gun can also cause bubbles to form in the
BLUSHING dope film, leaving pinholes when the bubbles burst.
The most common trouble with dope finishing is [Figure 6-3 on page 604]
blushing, which occurs when the humidity in the
air is relatively high. The solvents evaporating from SAGS AND RUNS
the dope cause its temperature to drop. Water con- Carelessness causes sags and runs because of too
denses out of the air into the dope film, and the much dope being applied. Prime causes of sags and
nitrocellulose will precipitate out, causing the dope runs are moving the gun too slowly over the sur-
film to be porous and have a chalky appearance. face, holding the work too close, or not thinning
Blushed dope finish is not as strong as a normal the dope properly. Trying to cover these imperfec-
dope finish. [Figure 6-2] tions with additional paint only makes the blemish
6-4 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

oil, or some silicone product contaminating the sur-

face and preventing the dope from curing as it
should. Be sure that the surface to be sprayed is per-
fectly clean to eliminate fisheyes. Scrub the surface
with a rag that is damp with an appropriate solvent.

Figure 6-3. Pinholes form in the dope film when bubbles of Dope roping is a condition that occasionally forms
the solvent break through the surface of the dope which
has prematurely hardened. The hardened surface cannot through the use of a brush in applying dope. Instead
flow back and cover the hole. of the dope flowing out of the brush in a nice, wet,
smooth coat, the brush sometimes leaves a rough
trail. Solvents evaporating out of the dope before
more pronounced. Vertical surfaces are especially
prone to sags or runs when excess dope is applied. they flow out over the surface cause this condition.
[Figure 6-4] Use a bit more thinner to prevent roping. Roping is
sometimes caused by the dope being too cold to
flow out onto a smooth surface. Always allow the
dope to warm up to room temperature.

Polyurethane finishes on fabric-covered aircraft are
criticized primarily for two reasons. The first is that
polyurethane finishes are designed for use over
metal. Since fabric is not as rigid as metal,
polyurethane has a tendency to crack as the fabric
flexes beneath the finish. The other criticism is that
the enameled surfaces are more difficult to repair.
Newer polyurethane topcoats are formulated to pro-
duce a flexible film that does not crack when it is
sprayed over the fabric. Newer finishes are primarily
Figure 6-4. Spraying too much dope on the surface causes
sags and runs. Essentially, gravity overcomes the surface
designed to be used over synthetic fabrics and a
tension and the material starts to flow. special flexative modified primer. Primer is sprayed
on the surface after all of the fabric is shrunk, rib
stitched, and all of the tapes are installed. If the
ORANGE PEEL primer is left uncovered for more than a week, scuff
Orange peel or localized roughening of the finish is it with a light abrasive before applying the topcoats.
caused by the surface of the dope drying before the Aluminum dope is not an absolute necessity on all
dope beneath it does. When the surface dries, it synthetic fabrics. Some manufacturers specify a
shrinks and wrinkles, giving it the rough appear- special black coat to be sprayed on after the primer
ance of an orange peel. Improper spraying tech- and just before the topcoat. Topcoats in this system
niques, thinners that evaporate too quickly or an air also have the flexative added so that they will not
draft over the surface are usually causes of orange crack. If repairs are required on fabric that is painted
peeling. with polyurethane, remove the topcoats by sanding
them off. Polyurethanes do not soften in the same
FISHEYES way as dope. Use a 280-grit, open-coat sandpaper to
Fisheyes are localized spots within the film of the cut away the polyurethane film and get down to the
dope that do not dry and are usually caused by wax, clear dope coats underneath.

Painting processes vary greatly and often depend on

the type of material, the painting surface, and the
equipment used. Paint and equipment manufactur-
ers often provide helpful information with their
products to assure the appropriate settings for
equipment, which is based on conditions and the
type of finishing material being applied.
Manufacturer's directions should be followed pers remove the finish by penetrating the surface
closely to create a finish that is smooth and pleasing film; either softening it and causing it to swell
to the eye. The smooth surface of a quality finish (enamels, epoxies, and polyurethanes), or by dis-
will help reduce drag as well as protect the base solving it (dope and lacquer). Chemical strippers
material from corrosion and abrasion. have a number of potent ingredients, some of which
are quite toxic, and must be used with care to pre-
vent personal injury or damage to the aircraft. The
METAL AND COMPOSITE Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has strin-
FINISHING gent rules on the disposal of some stripping chemi-
Although the skills required to finish metal and cals, which must be strictly followed. In addition,
composite surfaces are similar to fabric, there are a the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
few additional steps in the process that differ. One (OSHA) governs the use of these chemicals because
difference is in the way the existing coating is of their hazards. Products are beginning to arrive on
removed. Normally, stripping dope or paint from the market that are just as effective as previous
fabric aircraft on a large scale is rare. For fabric cov- strippers but without the environmental and health
ered aircraft, if the existing color has faded, simply concerns. As the FAA approves these products, they
add a new coat or replace the fabric and apply a will become excellent alternatives to the strippers
new finish. However, on metal and composite air- of the past.
craft, completely strip the paint to expose a clean
surface to which the new finish will adhere. While refinishing an aircraft, it is extremely impor-
tant to follow the instructions furnished by the
STRIPPING manufacturer of the finishing materials. Today there
Preparation of the surface is one of the most impor- are some rather exotic chemicals used in the strip-
tant steps in refinishing an aircraft. Paint will not ping, priming, and finishing processes, and if mis-
adhere to metal nor properly protect it from corro- used or modified, the results can be totally unac-
sion without a smooth and properly prepared sur- ceptable. In addition, the disposal of these chemi-
face. The first step is to remove all of the old finish. cals is highly regulated, and it is important to follow
There are three basic techniques for stripping paint: all of the manufacturer and governmental safety and
chemical, mechanical and pyrolytic. The stripping disposal recommendations. The ingredients used in
of metal parts is most commonly done with a chem- different brands of paint strippers may be quite
ical paint stripper or by air blasting with an abrasive incompatible, and should never be mixed.
material. If the material is composite or fiberglass,
mechanically remove the paint through careful Before stripping an aircraft, put it in an area where
sanding or scraping because the active ingredients the fumes will be filtered and vented away from all
in a chemical paint stripper will soften the resins in personnel. Also, properly dispose of any air-filter-
most fiberglass components. Pyrolytic methods use ing element. If there are any parts of the aircraft that
high temperatures to expand and extract the paint must not have stripper on them, such as wind-
and are rarely used on aircraft parts due to the prob- shields or windows, or any plastic components
ability of damaging the base material. Paint strip- such as wing tips, wheel pants, or cowling, they
should be masked with aluminum tape. Another
option is to use aluminum foil and polyethylene
sheeting that is taped down tightly so that no strip-
per can run under it. Remove all of the flight control
surfaces prior to stripping them to make it easier to
reach difficult areas. Flight control surfaces will
Aircraft Painting and Finishing

have to be removed after repainting anyway, in onto sensitive areas. Use a small brush to locally
order to balance them. apply the stripper here, and be sure that it only con-
tacts the metal parts. When all of the old finish is
Apply a thick layer of stripper with a brush without removed, use warm water, a good detergent, and a
rubbing it in. As soon an area has been completely Scotch-Brite pad to scrub the entire surface and get
wet down, cover it with a piece of polyethylene rid of every trace of the old finish and residue from
sheeting, such as a drop cloth. This will prevent the the stripper. Properly dispose of all the waste sludge
solvents from evaporating and keep the stripper and paint. [Figure 6-5]
working until it thoroughly penetrates the film.
After the stripper has properly worked into the sur-
Mechanically blasting an abrasive material or com-
face of the paint, remove it with hot water or a steam pound against the paint is the most familiar method
cleaner. of removing old finishes and corrosion. Sand blast-
Let the stripper remain on the surface for the time ing has been one of the most common methods of
specified by the manufacturer. Premature removal aircraft paint removal but has several major disad-
of the chemicals will usually provide poor results. vantages. Foremost is the violent and aggressive
Even with multiple applications of paint remover, nature of the reaction of the sand against the mater-
paint may not easily come off of the structure, espe- ial being blasted. Sand is very hard and course and
cially around rivets and in some of the cracks. grinds against the base material called the substrate.
Despite the difficulty, remove every bit of the old Blasting for too long in one spot can make the metal
finish to achieve a good finishing job. thinner. When blasted upon thin walled metal tub-
ing, like engine mounts, the wall thickness can be
Be careful when working around the windows, reduced to the point where the mount is not air-
windshield and the plastic parts that have been worthy. Sand blasting aluminum damages the
masked off. Remove every bit of the paint from the metal, sometimes beyond repair. This removes any
metal next to them without spreading the chemical cladding and the soft metal stretches due to the

Figure 6-5. One of the most important parts of a complete refinishing job is the proper stripping of the old finish from the surface.
Properly protect all surfaces that can be damaged by the chemical strippers.
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-7

hammering of the sand particles, often with disas-

trous results. Give careful consideration to the
results before sand blasting

Media blasting, however, is a different matter.

Several methods that use other types of materials
have been developed that avoid the dangers of sand
blasting. The most popular method uses a plastic
material that removes the old finish and the surface
corrosion without harming the metal underneath.
Most systems use special equipment that not only
provides the blasting action but removes the residue
as well. In some, the blasting media is separated and
recycled, while the removed material is available
Figure 6-6. Filiform corrosion is first noticed as a puffiness
for proper disposal. Some waste materials cannot be of the finish, generally around the lap joints. This type of
disposed of by simply throwing them away. The corrosion often extends beyond the initial area of indication
used blasting media may contain hazardous materi- given by the lifting paint.
als and may require special handling.
to change the active aluminum surface of the metal
As with any stripping operation, proper preparation into an oxide film that is chemically inert. This will
is most important. Many items must be masked, not prevent the formation of filiform corrosion and
only for the stripping operation, but also for the sake allow the primer to adhere. It would also be wise to
of safety. Stray materials can plug instrument open- use other methods of corrosion detection and check
ings, fuel vents, and get into cracks and crevices that the airframe and fasteners for strength with eddy
could cause problems if not properly cleaned after- current or ultrasonic testers. Once a surface has
ward. Most plastic media blasting uses a system been cleaned, do not touch it with bare hands since
approach, in which the equipment, as well as the oils in the skin can easily cause adhesion problems
type and size of media, is specifically designed for when painting is begun. Corrosion can be mini-
the job. mized by timely touchup of the aircraft finish.
Beside improving the overall appearance of the air-
Additional types of blasting media that can be used craft, touchup helps prevent corrosion from begin-
are wheat starch, sodium bicarbonate, glass beads, ning in the first place.
nut shells, cornhusks, and fruit seeds. Lightweight
and organic products like fruit seeds and wheat FINISHING MATERIALS
starch can be used on thin and sensitive substrate The quality of the materials used to cover the sub-
like magnesium and even many composite materi- strate should match the desired durability, the type
als. Carefully follow the manufacturer's instructions of material to be covered, and the desired look.
and be sure that the removal of the paint does not Glossy finishes, like enamel, are best for rigid air-
damage or weaken any of the base material. craft where there is little chance of surface cracking.
Other types of finishes look good in addition to their
CORROSION REMOVAL ability to take punishment from abrasives and high
temperatures. Ultimately, picking the correct finish-
AND PREVENTION ing materials is as much an issue of preference as it
When all of the finish is removed from the structure, is a by-product of need. All of the components must
examine it carefully for any indications of corro- be compatible before the process is begun.
sion. When polyurethane topcoats are improperly
applied, a common problem develops known as fil- PRIMERS
iform corrosion, starting under the dense film of After the surface has been properly pre-treated,
polyurethane and eating away at the metal in a long, apply a primer to provide a good bond between the
thread-like pattern. Sand away any corrosion and if metal and the topcoats. For years, zinc chromate
the corrosion is too advanced, the metal may have to has been the standard primer for aircraft because of
be replaced. [Figure 6-6] its good corrosion resistance. But its use is decreas-
ing since it does not provide as good a bond to the
When all of the corrosion is removed, acid etch the surface as some of the new primers, and it is also a
surface to allow the subsequent coatings to adhere. hazardous material. Two-component epoxy primer
After the acid treatment, apply a conversion coating is recommended.
6-8 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

WASH PRIMER ish sinking in and losing its gloss. The phosphoric
High-volume production of all-metal aircraft has acid requires about thirty minutes to convert into
brought about the development of a wash primer the phosphate film, so the topcoat must not be
which provides a good bond between the metal and applied until the conversion has finished.
the finish, and cures after a half hour. These primers However, it must be applied within eight hours or
can be used on aluminum, magnesium, steel, or on the glaze on the primer will be so hard that the top-
fiberglass. Apply acrylic or enamel topcoats directly coat will not adhere to it. If it is impossible to fin-
over the wash primer, but for maximum protection, ish within eight hours, apply another coat of
as is required for seaplane or agricultural aircraft, primer. Omit the acid when mixing the primer for
apply an epoxy primer over the wash primer. When the second coat or when it is going to be used over
wash primer is applied over a properly cured con- fiberglass or plastic.
version coating, the organic film of the wash primer
bonds with the inorganic film, providing excellent Critical to the application of wash primers is the
adhesion between the topcoat and the surface. It necessity of having sufficient moisture in the air to
also provides good protection for the metal. properly convert the acid into the phosphate film.
Wash primer is a three-component material. Four Proper conversion requires nine-hundredths of a
parts of primer are mixed with one part acid and four pound of water for every pound of dry air during the
parts thinner and allowed to stand for twenty min- primer application. To determine if there is suffi-
utes to begin curing. The primer must be re-stirred to cient moisture in the air, use a chart comparing wet
assure a consistent mix and then sprayed on the sur- and dry bulb temperatures. [Figure 6-7]
face. Adjust the viscosity by adding more thinner to
get the extremely thin film that is required, but never This is a modification of a relative humidity chart.
more than eight parts of thinner to four parts of To use the chart, compare a wet-bulb thermometer
primer. Apply wash primers with a film thickness of with a dry-bulb thermometer. Wrap a dampened
no more than 0.3 mil (0.0003 in., 0.0076 mm). This cotton wick around the bulb of one, and with the
can be determined by looking at the surface. A film thermometers placed side by side in the spray
of proper thickness will not hide the surface but will booth, blow air from the spray gun across them.
give a light amber cast to the aluminum. This will evaporate the water from the wick and
lower the temperature on that thermometer. The
Wash primers are popular because they may be temperature of the thermometer without the wick
topcoated shortly after application without the fin- (dry-bulb) is located on the bottom of the chart.

Figure 6-7. If the lines representing the wet-bulb and dry-bulb temperatures intersect above the 0.09-pound line, there is sufficient
water in the air. If the intersection is between the 0.09 and 0.05-pound lines, add one ounce of distilled water to one gallon of the
thinner. If the intersection is below the 0.05-pound line, add a maximum of two ounces of distilled water to each gallon of thin-
ner to aid the cure of the primer.
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-9

Follow this line up until the slanted line represent- been damaged, provided the initial condition was
ing the temperature of the wet-bulb thermometer not too severe.
crosses it. The amount of water is on the horizontal
line through this intersecting point. If the dry-bulb SYNTHETIC ENAMELS
temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the Enamel paint is one of the older finishes for metal
wet-bulb temperature is 60 degrees, these two lines aircraft and one that has been commonly used for
cross above the horizontal line indicating 0.09 automobiles. The finish can be applied over zinc
pounds of water per pound of dry air, actually at chromate primer, and cured by the process of oxi-
about 0.095 pounds. There is enough water in the air dation. These finishes have a good gloss and do not
to properly convert the acid in the primer. require rubbing. Their chemical resistance is nomi-
nal and not as resistant to abrasion when compared
If there is not enough water in the air for proper con- to some of the more modern finishing systems.
version, the finish will trap active acid against the
metal. To prevent this, and the subsequent danger of To apply enamel, thin it to the viscosity specified by
corrosion, add water to the thinner. The thinner for the manufacturer, spray on a light mist coat and
wash primer is primarily an alcohol and it will allow the thinners to evaporate. This takes about ten
accept water. When there is between 0.05 and 0.09 to fifteen minutes and is followed by a full, wet
pounds of water to each pound of air, add one ounce cross-coat. The enamel should be ready to mask and
of distilled water to each gallon of thinner. If there tape in about 48 hours.
is less water than 0.05 pounds per pound of dry air,
add two ounces to each gallon of thinner; but this is ACRYLIC LACQUER
the maximum amount permissible under any cir- Many aircraft produced on high-volume production
cumstances. [Figure 6-8] lines are finished with acrylic lacquer because of
the speed at which paint can be applied. They are
primed with a two-part wash primer, and as soon as
the primer is entirely dry, they are sprayed with the
acrylic lacquer. These lacquers are easy to apply.
They have a lower solids content than enamels but
they produce a good gloss, especially if they are pol-
ished. They are fairly resistant to chemical attack
and quite weather resistant.

The low solids content of acrylics makes them

somewhat touchy to apply. Thin the lacquer to the
viscosity specified by the manufacturer, spray on a
very light tack coat, and then follow that with at
least three wet cross-coats. Allow about a
half-hour drying time between coats. It is much
better to use more thin coats than it is to spray on a
Figure 6-8. Saturate the wick surrounding the wet bulb heavier coat of lacquer because thick coats tend
thermometer with water, and blow air across the two. to develop pinholes and orange peel. Mix the
Compare the two readings on the table in figure 6-7 to final coat by using one part of retarder to three
determine the amount of water in the air. parts of thinner. This will give the coat a little
more time to flow out to a nice, smooth finish. If
retarder is used, the finish should dry overnight
Acrylic lacquer applied over an improperly cured
before tape is put on.
wash primer is porous enough to allow the moisture
from a heavy dew to penetrate the film, unite with
the free acid and convert it. In the process of doing POLYURETHANE
this, the paint will blister from the surface. If blis- One of the most durable and attractive topcoats on
ters appear shortly after the painting has been fin- high-speed, high-altitude aircraft is produced by the
ished put the airplane in the sunshine to thoroughly polyurethane system. This hard, chemically resis-
warm it. These blisters will subside and the surface tant finish not only provides a beautiful wet look,
will be smooth again. The acid will have received but it is the most durable finish for agricultural air-
sufficient water for its conversion and the primer craft, seaplanes, and other flight vehicles that oper-
will have its proper cure; the finish will not have ate in hostile environments. In fact, polyurethane
6-10 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

Figure 6-9. A polyurethane finish is extremely durable and is noted for its "wet" look.

paints are even resistant to Skydrol hydraulic Mix polyurethane with its catalyst in the propor-
fluid, which is highly corrosive. [Figure 6-9] tions specified by the instructions on the can and
allow it to stand for fifteen to thirty minutes to begin
Polyurethane is a two-part, chemically cured finish curing. This is called the induction time of the
that has a solids content of up to 60%, twice that of material and is an extremely important procedure.
acrylic lacquers. The characteristically high gloss of After the proper induction time, stir and mix in the
these finishes is due to the slow-flowing resins proper reducer to get the correct viscosity for spray-
used. The thinners evaporate but the resins con- ing. Determine the viscosity by using a viscosity cup.
tinue to flow until they form a perfectly flat surface Dip the cup in the thinned polyurethane and lift out.
and cure uniformly throughout. Light reflecting The amount of time in seconds between the moment
from its flat surface gives it the wet look. The drying the cup is lifted and the first break in the stream
time of polyurethane paints can be shortened by flowing out of the hole in the bottom of the cup is a
increasing the percentage of catalyst added to the measure of the viscosity. The correct viscosity is
resin. This additional "drier" speeds up drying determined from experience, but once this is known,
time. However, if too much is added it can create a it can be duplicated for every refinishing job.
brittle film that is prone to cracking and peeling.
Spray on a very light tack coat when the viscosity of
Polyurethane is resistant to abrasion, to most of the the liquid is properly adjusted, and a full, wet
chemicals used in agricultural applications, and to cross-coat when the thinner evaporates from the
the strong action of the phosphate-ester-based liquid. These finishes can be applied with any of
hydraulic fluids used in many modern jet aircraft. the accepted paint application systems. The main
Even a solvent as potent as acetone has minimal difficulty with a polyurethane finish is that it is
effect on it. To remove a polyurethane finish, hold a easily sprayed on too thick. This causes it to build up
solvent-type paint stripper against the surface for a at the skin lap joints and possibly crack because it is
considerable time to give the active ingredients an not as flexible as some of the other finishes. The
opportunity to break through the film and degrade slow drying and low surface tension of a
the primer. The primer used under a polyurethane polyurethane finish allows it to flow out flat, and it
topcoat is a critical part of the system. Wash primers will actually require several days before the finish
may be used, but if they do not cure properly, they has reached its final smoothness and hardness.
can cause filiform corrosion. The surface of polyurethane is normally dry
enough to tape in
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-11

about five hours, but it is much better if it can be left topcoat is sprayed over the colored pigments to
for at least 24 hours before putting on any tape. help retard fading of the vivid transparent pig-
ments. If the airplane has a good white finish on it,
The catalysts used with polyurethanes react to mois- use this for the base.
ture, and the cans of material must not be left open. If
a can of catalyst remains open for a period of time and Light penetrates the transparent topcoats and is
is then resealed, it is possible that it has absorbed reflected off the base; the viewer sees the colored
enough moisture to start the reaction; the can may reflection. The application of these finishes is the
swell up and burst. Remove all catalyzed material same as for any sprayed-on finish. The reducer, the
from the spraying equipment as soon as spraying is pigmented material, and the topcoat material must
complete because if it sets up in the equipment, it is all be compatible. Paint manufacturers sell all of this
almost impossible to remove. A lack of flexibility has material in kit form, so there is usually enough of all
been one of the difficulties with polyurethane, but the components for the typical small application. It
continued research and development have produced is also available in bulk for larger applications.
polyurethane topcoats flexible enough that they will
not crack, even if applied to a flexible surface. The pot WRINKLE FINISH
life of a catalyzed material such as polyurethane is the Instrument panels, electronic equipment, and other
time between the mixing of the material and the time aircraft parts subject to considerably rough treat-
it has set-up too much to use. The pot life for ment may be finished with a wrinkled surface. This
polyurethanes is about six to eight hours. After this is essentially a material with fast drying oils. The
time, it must be discarded because it no longer usable. surface dries first and as the bottom dries, it shrinks,
pulling the surface into a wrinkled pattern. The size
Repainting an aircraft with a polyurethane paint usu- of the wrinkles is determined to a great extent by the
ally includes picking an entire process system. The formulation of the material.
complete polyurethane system includes all of the
metal preparation chemicals and procedures as well Spray all wrinkle-finish materials with a heavy coat
as the primers, thinners, and additives such as fisheye and allow them to dry in the way that is recom-
eliminators. When using a system, do not substitute mended by the manufacturer. There are two types of
materials or try to modify the times or procedures. finish: one that cures by heat and is baked to pro-
duce the proper wrinkle, and another that dries in
ACRYLIC URETHANES the air. Air-dry wrinkle finish that is available in
This system of finishes has the advantages of both aerosol cans is considerably softer than the baked
the acrylics and the urethanes. It is easy to apply like finish and is not recommended for areas where
an acrylic, and is nearly as durable and chemical there will be much handling or wear. It is also not
resistant as a polyurethane finish. Many acrylic ure- recommended that air-dry finishes be baked
thanes are used as a clear coat on top of color coats. because the pigments will discolor.
PRODUCTS Flat black lacquer is a durable, non-reflective coat-
Traditional paints can not always be utilized over ing for instrument panels and glare shields. Spray
all the surfaces of the aircraft. In some cases, special this on, either with a gun, or from an aerosol can,
paints and processes should be utilized in areas and allow it to air dry. Spray flat finishes on thin so
where a specific requirement or need exists. Wing they will not flow out and gloss. If they are put on
walks, instrument panels, and battery boxes are too thick, there will be spotty areas of glossy finish
good examples of areas that require special finishes in the predominantly flat coat.
and treatments.
HIGH-VISIBILITY FINISHES Mix a special sharp grained sand into a tough
The need to make aircraft more visible, both on enamel material to form non-slippery surfaces for
the ground and in the air, has caused the paint wing walks or any part of the airplane where a
manufacturers to develop a series of vivid color rough surface is desirable. Apply it either with a
finishes. Normally these finishes are not used for coarse brush, or a spray, using a special nozzle for
the complete airplane but are used for wing-tips, the dense, highly abrasive material. Apply it
cowlings, the empennage, or for colored bands directly over the regular finish after thoroughly
around the fuselage. These finishes consist of a cleaning the surface and breaking the glaze if the
coat of transparent pigment applied over a white, finish is old. Thin the wing walk compound with
reflective base coat. A clear, ultraviolet-absorbing conventional enamel thinners.
6-12 Aircraft Painting and Finishing


Battery boxes are one of the more corrosion-prone Built-up fuel tanks may develop seeping leaks
areas of an airplane because of the continual pres- around rivets and seams. These can be stopped with
ence of acid fumes and the occasional spilled acid. a resilient, non-hardening tank sealer. Seal the tanks
To prevent damage to the metal, treat battery boxes which can be removed from the structure by slosh-
and the surrounding area with an acid-proof paint. ing them with the sealer; hence the more common
One commonly used material is a black asphaltum name of sloshing compound. Tank Preparation
that resembles tar. Dilute it with thinner and brush
a. Drain the tank and ventilate it thoroughly.
it onto the surface after all traces of corrosion have
been removed and treated with a conversion coating b. Remove the tank from the airplane.
such as Alodine. The process of alodining is the c. Remove the gauge sender, vent line fittings,
chemical application of a protective chromate con-
version coating upon aluminum. The alodining main line screen, and quick drain.
process provides good corrosion protection, even d. Rinse the tank with clean white gasoline to get
when scratched. Paint sticks to it extremely well, rid of all the fuel dyes, then air-dry the tank for
and in some cases, it can substitute for primer. at least thirty minutes at room temperature. If
Alodine is a brand name for a process that is the tank has been previously sealed, remove
gener-ically called chromate conversion coating. all of the old sealer by pouring about a gallon
These coatings are electrically conductive and of acetone or ethyl acetate into the tank and
corrosion resistant but with almost no abrasion sealing it up for an hour or two. The vapors
resistance. Anodizing is an electrochemical process will soften the sealer and the liquid may then
that converts the surface aluminum into aluminum be sloshed around in the tank and dumped
oxide. It is non-conductive with significant out. Repeat the process until the solvents
corrosion and abrasion resistance. Both coatings come out clean and inspect that there is none
are widely used as adhesion promoters. The final of the old sealant in the tank. Drain it com-
finish must cover the corrosion treatment. pletely and dry the tank with compressed air.
Generally, chromate conversion coatings are less
e. Plug all the threaded holes with pipe plugs and
expensive than anodizing, while offering better
cover the gauge hole with tape or a metal
A good coat of polyurethane enamel is an acid-proof f. Pour about a gallon of sloshing or sealing
finish that is far superior to the black asphaltum com-
paint. When an airplane is being painted with pound into the tank, thinned as recommended
polyurethane, coat the battery box and the adjacent on the can. Cover the filler hole and slowly
area with polyurethane. It will provide protection rotate the tank until every bit of the inside is
from the fumes of the lead-acid or nickel-cadmium covered. Leave the main line plug slightly
batteries and will not chip or break away from the loose to relieve the pressure that builds up
metal. Polyurethane will not wash away with gaso- during sloshing.
line or any ordinary solvents.
g. Place the tank over a container and remove the
FLOAT BOTTOM COMPOUND quick-drain plug. Allow as much compound
Seaplane floats take a beating, both from the abra- to drain out as will. This compound will
sion of the water and from rocks on the beach or remain usable if it is covered immediately
floating debris. In addition to the mechanical dam- after draining it from the tank. If it has thick-
age, they are subject to maximum exposure to cor- ened, it can be thinned with an appropriate
rosive elements. For protection to the bottom of the thinner or solvent.
float, a material similar to acid-proof paint is used. h. Reinstall the drain plug and put on another
It is an asphaltum product, which is thinned to coat by pouring a gallon of sealer in the tank
spraying consistency. If a black finish is not desired and rotating the tank as before.
on the bottom of the float, suspend aluminum paste
in thinner and spray it onto the black compound; i. Drain and dry the tank for at least 24 hours; or
the thinner will soften the material and allow the if low pressure air is circulated through the
aluminum powder to embed in the finish. tank, it can be used after 16 hours.
Polyurethane enamel provides a good j. Clean all of the threaded openings with a
abrasion-resistant finish for floats and may be used bottle brush and then install the fittings,
instead of the more conventional float bottom using an appropriate thread lubricant.
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-13

k. Coat the float of the sender unit with light the fibers. Mix a special alkyd resin having a very
grease to prevent its sticking to the compound, low solids content with fungicidal materials. Treat
and reinstall the sender, using a new gasket. wood structures with this before they are varnished.
Dip large and intricate wood structures into a vat of
1. Reinstall the tank according to the manufac- this material to be sure every portion is protected.
turer's recommendations and fill it with fuel. Dry for at least 24 hours before covering it with spar
Check the operation of the sender and if stuck in varnish. Rot-inhibiting sealer, as any fungicide or
fresh sealer, free it from the hottom of the tank. mildewcide, is poisonous, but because of its
A tank should never be resealed until every bit of extremely low toxicity, no special safety precau-
the old material has been removed. Don't put new tions beyond adequate ventilation and normal hand
material in the tank if even a trace of the old mater- washing are required for its use.
ial remains. Use this type of sealant around rivets SPAR VARNISH
and seams in built-up tanks. Be sure the area is per- Spar varnish is a phenolic modified oil which cures
fectly clean and scrubbed with an appropriate sol- by oxidation rather than evaporation of its solvents.
vent. Brush sealant into the seams and around the It produces a tough, highly water-resistant film that
rivets inside the tank to a thickness about the same is not softened by solvents used in the varnish. Use
as there would be from two coats of sloshed sealant. it over the rot-inhibiting sealer for aircraft wood
structures. A topcoat of spar varnish in which a
fungicide is dissolved often protects electronic com-
Seam paste is a thick zinc-chromate material with
ponents such as circuit boards. This is a transparent
organic fibers embedded in it. Use it for making
coating with a light amber cast. When used over cir-
waterproof joints in seaplane hulls or floats and to
cuit boards it must be completely removed from any
make leakproof seams in fuel tanks. Use it also as a
point to be soldered.
dielectric for joining dissimilar metals. Put it on
with a putty knife or squeegee and smooth it down TUBE OIL
to the desired thickness then join the seam. Note Use this thin, non-hardening, raw linseed oil to pro-
that this material will not harden. tect the inside of the tubular structure in aircraft
fuselages, empennage structure, and landing gear.
Drill a hole into each tube section and force in the
Pyrolytic paint removal utilizing high temperature,
tube oil. Rotate the structure so the oil will fill every
open flames, or hot chemical solutions is an effec-
tive method for paint removal. However, certain air- portion of the tube then drain the oil out. After the
oil has drained, plug the holes with sheet metal
craft components are constantly exposed to such
screws, drive screws, or by welding.
conditions and without paint material designed to
withstand them, they would quickly be worn away. THINNERS AND REDUCERS
Paints designed to take the abuse of heat are impor- Dopes, enamels, and lacquers are formulated in
tant protectors of engine components and structural such a way that the pigments or film materials are
members. As with all other types of finishes, strictly suspended in the appropriate solvents. Thin or
adhere to the method of application. reduce these to make them less viscous for spray-
Engine Enamel
ing. Adding the correct type and amount of thin-
This enamel has pigments that are colorfast under ner is of the utmost importance. Use only the thin-
high temperatures. The special colors used by ner or reducer recommended by the paint manu-
engine manufacturers are available in this material. facturer, and thin to the proper viscosity by mix-
Thin it with regular enamel reducer or other con- ing the material and thinner as specified; or better,
ventional thinners. by the viscosity called for or known to be correct
from experience. Perform this test this using a vis-
Heat Resistant Aluminum Paint cosity cup.
This material is specially designed to resist temper-
atures up to about 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. It is NITRATE DOPE THINNER
used on exhaust systems and heater shrouds and Use nitrate dope thinner, some of which meets
has a high content of aluminum shavings, much like Federal Specifications TT-T-266C, to thin nitrate
an aluminum dope. dope, nitrocellulose lacquers, or nitrate cement.
This thinner, if rubbed on a dry dope film, will
ROT-INHIBITING SEALER determine whether the dope is nitrate or butyrate. If
Organic materials such as aircraft woods are subject the film softens immediately, it is nitrate; if it does
to fungus or mildew, which destroy the strength of not, it is butyrate.
6-74 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

BUTYRATE DOPE THINNER tory job of reducing enamels, engine enamels, wing
Butyrate dope thinners can be used in butyrate or walk compounds, zinc chromate primer, acid-proof
nitrate dope, but nitrate thinners cannot be used in black paint, float bottom compound, and white,
butyrate. Acrylic lacquer thinner may be used in dope-proof paint. Use it also for washing down a
either butyrate or nitrate dope but is not recom- surface to remove the wax after a paint stripper has
mended. Butyrate thinner cannot be used to thin been used.
acrylics. There is a universal thinner that will thin
nitrate, butyrate, and acrylic lacquers, but because ACETONE
of the special requirements of each, this type of Acetone is universally used as a solvent and a
material is a compromise and is not generally rec- cleaner. Use it to remove lacquer finishes and for
ommended. Always use thinners and reducers clean-up after painting. It will soften acrylics or lac-
made specifically for the product being thinned. quers that have set-up in spray guns or hoses, but it
has little effect on polyurethane. Use only virgin
RETARDER acetone since recovered acetone is often so acidic
Retarder is a special type of thinner that has rich that it can damage anything it is used upon.
solvents. These dry very slowly and prevent the
temperature drop that condenses moisture and RE JUVENATOR
causes blushing. If dope spraying must be done in Rejuvenator is composed essentially of potent sol-
times of high humidity, and there is no way to con- vents and a plasticizer. Tricresyl-phosphate (TCP) is
trol the amount of moisture in the air, use retarder a permanent, somewhat fire-retardant plasticizer
in place of some of the regular thinner. One part used in many rejuvenators. It softens the old dope
retarder to four or five parts of regular thinner is a and flows the cracks back together.
good rate of mixture to try. One part retarder to
three parts thinner is the absolute maximum that If a fabric job has been interrupted in the process of
will do any good. A mixture of one part retarder and finishing, and the aluminum dope has been on the
two parts thinner that is lightly mist-coated over a fabric for a considerable time before the topcoats are
blushed surface will sometimes remove the blush. applied, spray on a coat of rejuvenator to soften the
dope and then spray on the color coats.
Airshow-quality fabric finishes consist of many SPOT PUTTY AND SANDING SURFACER
coats of dope, sanded with number 600-grit paper Use nitrocellulose spot putty to fill cracks or low
between each coat, and rubbed down after the last spots in wood skins before covering them with fab-
coat. Spray these coats on wet and thin. Use ric. When using spot putty, be certain that any
anti-blush thinner in this type of finish because defects that may cause a loss of structural strength
its slower drying solvents allow each coat more time are not covered up and hidden. If the skin is to be
to flow out and form a smoother film. Anti-blush covered only with a film of enamel, use enamel spot
thinner lies between regular thinner and retarder in putty so that the solvents in the putty will not lift
its quantity of solvents and length of drying time. the film. After applying the filler, apply a sanding
surfacer over the wood or fiberglass laid-up struc-
ENAMEL REDUCER ture. The sanding surfacer is designed to fill surface
There are several proprietary reducers on the mar- irregularities with a material having enough body
ket for enamel, but a good reducer does a satisfac- that it can be sanded smooth.

As always, safety should be one of the primary

concerns in the shop. Proper storage of paint and
chemical strippers, electrical outlets, personal
protection, and fire safety are all major concerns
when working with paint. In addition, proper First, all of the lighting, electrical switches, and out-
knowledge of the equipment and tools available to lets must meet not only the electrical code for the
do the job will increase safety as well as ease the
workload. The maintenance technician should building, but the insurance company requirements
become knowledgeable concerning the paint shop for electrical equipment in a paint area. In addi-
facility and its tools, and be familiar with the tion, Occupational Safety and Health
equipment required to finish the job safely, Administration (OSHA) standards must also be
quickly, and professionally. met for the safety of employees. For example, the
spray room should provide for moving the air
resulting in little more than a slight odor of the fin-
PAINT ROOM ishing material. If painting is being done in a cor-
Businesses that do a large volume of aircraft paint- ner of the hangar that has been closed off with
ing normally have a paint hangar where nothing is polyethylene sheeting, install exhaust fans to rid
done except painting and finishing aircraft. Ideally, the area of fumes. Most of the fumes are heavier
these buildings are equipped with vapor-proof than air, so place the fan near the floor. The fan
lights and have their temperature and humidity should be belt-driven with the motor located in an
controlled for the optimum spraying conditions. area that is free of potentially explosive fumes.
However, a significant amount of aircraft finishing Wear proper masks and breathing equipment while
takes place under conditions that are far less elabo- spraying the paint. Protect the skin from direct
rate. In any case, there are certain safety conditions contact with chemicals and paints.
that must be met wherever finishing material is
applied. [Figure 6-10] Store all of the finishing equipment in an area that
is approved by the insurance carrier and by
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA) inspectors. If it is stored outside the paint-
ing facility, bring the material inside with plenty of
time for it to come to room temperature before
using it.

One of the most important considerations in a
paint shop with conventional high-pressure spray
guns is the supply of compressed air. There must
be an adequate volume with sufficient pressure,
and the air must be free of oil and water. Most air-
craft maintenance shops have compressors capa-
ble of producing air pressure of about 150 psi. The
air is stored in an air tank called a receiver and
Figure 6-10. If at all possible, use the paint shop for nothing then piped to the paint shop. Before it is used, it
besides painting aircraft. is filtered and regulated, typically with a
wall-mounted filter and regulator unit that
contains a water trap. Drain the filter unit and
the air receiver every day to keep all water out of
the system. Some systems use a chemical
desiccant as a
6-16 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

final filter to remove any humidity in the com- include the use of a high volume/low pressure spray
pressed air. Check the desiccant regularly and system, electrostatic paint spray systems, and
replace it when it becomes saturated. [Figure 6-11] finally, powder coating systems.


The High Volume/Low Pressure (HVLP) painting
system uses a relatively low pressure, resulting in
lower paint velocities. Essentially, the system atom-
izes paint with a high volume of air delivered at low
pressure. HVLP systems generally never exceed 10
psi of atomizing air while producing over 20 cubic
feet per minute through the paint nozzle. The more
common high-pressure systems are set at 45-60 psi
and produce 8 cubic feet per minute. In most cases,
the use of an HVLP system warrants holding the gun
slightly closer to the painting surface due to the
lower velocity. Since there is less force in the paint
stream, the ability to control the application is
much greater than using a high-pressure painting
system. In addition, these systems are more envi-
ronmentally friendly because they create less
over-spray and use less paint for the same
application as compared to high-pressure systems.
[Figure 6-12]

Figure 6-11. A typical system with just one filtered air outlet
may look like this. It should provide an adequate supply of
clean compressed air essential for a successful paint job.
Check the filtering system prior to every operation to
assure clean, water-free air.

The important pressure for spray painting is not the

pressure at the compressor, or even at the regulator,
but at the gun itself. When a gun is connected to the
regulator with a long hose, or even a short length of
small-diameter hose, there will be an appreciable
pressure drop in the flexible line. Air pressure at the
gun will be considerably less than at the regulator. In Figure 6-12. HVLP or High Volume/Low Pressure systems
are becoming more popular due to their efficiency and envi-
order to get the proper pressure for the material being
ronmental safety. These systems use a high volume of air at
sprayed, there should be a pressure gauge at the gun. low pressure to atomize and apply paint.
A temporary pressure gauge can be installed at the
gun to determine what primary regulator settings
achieve the desired pressure at the gun. Pressure
required to spray the material will vary depending ELECTROSTATIC SYSTEMS
upon the material and type of application. Electrostatic systems are used where overspray
must be kept to an absolute minimum. Seldom
PAINTING AND SPRAY EQUIPMENT found in maintenance shops, this type of equipment
There are several systems for spraying liquid or is generally reserved for larger shops and complex
powder finishing materials. Popular systems use painting jobs. Electrostatic painting can be done
compressed air to atomize the liquid and spray it effectively on metal and some wood. Paint is
onto the surface and are used almost exclusively in applied from a gun and attracted to an electrically
aircraft maintenance shops. Other methods are grounded workpiece. Spray guns are available in
becoming more popular because of new environ- airless, air atomized, rotating discs and bells, and
mental laws and the need for increased efficiency in HVLP. When the material leaves the gun, the nega-
paint application. Some of the newer tively charged atomized paint is drawn electrostati-
methods cally to the surface of the substrate. This minimizes
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-17

overspray due to the attraction that the paint has to is used during application. Each spray gun manu-
the surface of the aircraft or part. Approximately facturer publishes air cap charts showing the opti-
75% of the paint transfers effectively to the surface, mal atomization setting for viscosity in conjunction
compared to 50 to 65 percent in the HVLP system. with the specific gun configuration. Making sure
However, its potential drawbacks can offset the these settings are made for each viscosity and tem-
increased efficiency. perature combination will help produce the desired
Unfortunately, when painting complex surfaces
using an electrostatic system, the Faraday cage There are basically two types of spray guns used for
effect can cause paint particles to deposit around aircraft finishing, suction feed guns and pressure
small cavities or complex curves in the metal. feed guns . The difference between the two is in the
Several problems are created due to excessive paint fluid tip and the air cap . [Figure 6-13]
buildup but it can be overcome by increasing the
spray pressure or particle charge. However, the SUCTION GUNS
result is slightly less efficiency and more overspray. The suction-feed gun normally has a one-quart cup
Another problem with electrostatic painting is that attached and is used for touch-up painting or other
plastic, rubber, ceramic and glass cannot be low-volume work. The fluid tip sticks out of the air
grounded and will not attract the cap just enough to produce a low pressure, or a suc-
electrically-charged atomized paint. tion, which pulls the material out of the cup. As
compressed air flows past the needle valve orifice
POWDER COATING SYSTEMS and out the spray tip, it creates a partial vacuum in
Powder coating is generally referred to as a "dry the paint tube. A small hole in the top of the paint
painting" process, which involves melting a dry container allows atmospheric pressure to push the
powdered paint onto the surface of ferrous material. paint up to the needle valve. Pressure-feed guns, on
Superior metal protection is achieved but it may not the other hand, use the direct force of compressed
always be as aesthetically pleasing. "Dry painting" air to push the paint up into the needle valve.
is typically reserved for parts of the airframe, like
engine mounts or landing gear struts, that will be PRESSURE GUNS
exposed to stresses, temperatures, and chemicals A pressure-feed gun is attached to either a pressure
that would normally reduce the life of conventional cup or to a pressure pot with the fluid tip flush with
"wet paints." the air cap. Airflow around the tip does not create a
low pressure since the fluid is delivered to the gun
SPRAY GUNS under a slight positive pressure from the air supply.
The type of spray gun used in aircraft painting When spraying a considerable volume of material,
needs to match the type of material and system that use a pressure-fed gun with a pressure pot. Pots are

Figure 6-13. A good quality spray gun is essential for an appealing finishing job. There are a variety of spray guns designed for use
with HVLP, High Pressure, or other types of paint application.
6-18 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

Figure 6-14. Smaller suction cups, front left, are often used for spraying the trim and for touch-up. A smaller two-quart pressure
pot or a larger pressure pot, shown in this figure, is used for priming and painting the base coats or for larger areas of accent color.

available in sizes that hold from two quarts to fif- will not filter out fumes. Removal of fumes and
teen gallons, with the five-gallon pot being a handy vapors depend upon adequate ventilation in the
size for finishing aircraft. These pots normally have paint room. [Figure 6-15]
an agitator to keep the material mixed while spray-
ing and may either be air driven or turned with a
crank. [Figure 6-14]

Another common spray gun uses a pump to deliver
the material under high pressure to the special spray
gun where it is released through a small nozzle.
Instead of pressurized air, the high fluid velocity
tears the material apart, or atomizes it. Paint particles
are generally larger when using this system, which
allows for a thick coating of paint. Airless spraying is
used where large areas must be covered in a short
period of time and is normally found only in shops
where a large volume of painting is done. No matter
what type of gun or system is used, utilize the proper
protection from vapors and paint particles. Figure 6-15. Dust respirators or respirator masks are not
designed to remove fumes from the air; they can only filter
out solids.
Many of the solvents and thinners used in modern
finishing systems are toxic, and some form of respi- If you must stay in a room that has a heavy concen-
rator or mask must be worn when spraying the tration of fumes, wear an airflow-type of mask that
material. Most dust respirators or filter-type masks is slightly pressurized with shop air from the feed
will remove solids from the air you breathe, but they line to the spray gun. This keeps fumes out of the
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-19

mask, shields the face and protects the eyes from brushes in these motors can easily ignite vapors that
potentially irritating vapors. [Figure 6-16] are stirred up.

After the paint is thoroughly mixed, measure its vis-

cosity. Many of the modern finishes are quite sensi-
tive with regard to their viscosity when they are
sprayed. Use a viscosity cup to duplicate the consis-
tency of the paint from one batch to the next. Paint
laboratories use Zahn or Ford cups, which are pre-
cision devices, but a small plastic cup is available at
paint supply houses that is entirely adequate.

Dip the viscosity cup into the thinned and mixed

paint. Time the flow from the cup until the first
break appears. Elapsed time is dependent upon the
viscosity of the material. By knowing the viscosity
that produces a good finish, each succeeding batch
can be mixed the same. [Figure 6-17]

Figure 6-16. Use airflow-type respirators if there are fumes

in the paint shop that cannot be removed. This is an exam-
ple of a visor/hood model that provides extra protection.
Other systems supply air only to a mask.

An organic vapor respirator can also be used to

remove some vapors and solids from the air.
Chemical absorption removes vapors from the
breathing air and a mask removes solids with a
pre-filter. They are ideally suited for surface
preparation such as sanding and paint removal.


If a shop does a considerable amount of finishing, a
mechanical shaker is a valuable piece of equipment
to have in the shop. A can of finishing material is
Figure 6-17. A viscosity cup will ensure consistency of vis-
clamped into the machine that shakes, or agitates, cosity between batches of finishing material.
the can for fifteen to twenty minutes, assuring a
thorough mixture of paint. If a mechanical shaker is
not available, a good mixture of the pigments can be
obtained by using a hand agitator or an agitator dri- SPRAY GUN OPERATION
ven by an air drill motor. An electric drill motor There are many different spray gun manufacturers
must never be used to drive the agitator since the and each gun is designed, built, and used differ-
vapors from many of the finishing materials in use ently. Since operating procedures are unique for
are quite flammable. Electrical arcing each gun, follow the directions provided by the
from the
6-20 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

manufacturer closely. When the material is ready

and the tools have been chosen, the next step 'will
be to adjust the spray pattern of the gun. The proper
use of the spray gun makes the difference between a
truly fine finish and one that leaves something to be
desired. Understanding clearly the operation of the
paint gun permits the technician to accurately set
the various controls.

For this explanation, assume that the gun is a suc-

tion-feed gun and has a one-quart suction cup
screwed directly to the gun, as shown in figure 6-18.
Notice that the air line is attached to the fitting at
the bottom of the handle, and the material supply is
attached to the fitting at the front end of the gun.

The vent hole in the lid of the suction cup must be

open and the gasket properly fit, sealing the lid to
the cup so that material will not spill out. Connect
the air line to the gun and pull the trigger to open the Figure 6-19. The amount that the air valve is open deter-
mines the shape of the spray pattern. When there is no air-
air valve. Adjust the regulator to get the desired pres- flow through the wing ports, the pattern is round; and as
sure at the gun while the air is flowing. [Figure 6-19] the airflow increases, the pattern flattens out.

Figure 6-18. When the trigger is pulled, the air valve opens, sending atomizing air to the nozzle and the wing ports. Continued
pulling of the trigger lifts the fluid needle off its seat so the material can flow from the nozzle. The fluid adjustment determines
the amount of material allowed to flow, and the air valve controls the shape of the spray pattern.
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-21

Notice in figure 6-18 that pulling the trigger allows

air to flow out the center hole of the air cap, pro-
ducing a low pressure that will pull fluid from the
cup when the fluid adjustment valve is open.
Continuing to pull back on the trigger moves the
fluid needle back so that material from the cup can
be pulled up and sprayed out with the air. As the
liquid leaves the air cap, it is broken down into
extremely tiny droplets, or atomized. The spray pat-
tern from the gun in this condition should be round.

When the gun is putting out a round pattern of

spray, opening up the wing-port air valve allows air
to flow out of the holes in the wing ports of the air
cap. Air flowing from these holes blows against the
stream of atomized material, and determines the
shape of the spray pattern. A correctly adjusted
spray gun should produce a uniform, fan-shaped
spray, with the fan perpendicular to the wing ports. Figure 6-20. Spray gun problems or incorrect settings can
often be identified by the pattern of the spray.
If the paint pattern is heavy at either the top or the
bottom, material has built up on the air cap, or some
of the holes may be plugged up. To correct this, than flowing, it is an indication that the gun is being
remove the air cap, soak it in thinner, and probe the held too far from the work, or there is too much air
holes with a broom straw or toothpick. Do not use pressure supplied to the gun. It may also indicate an
any kind of wire, as wire can damage these preci- incorrect fluid tip size or a low fluid pressure for
sion holes. Afterward, blow dry the cap with com- HLVP systems. An orange peel surface clearly indi-
pressed air and reinstall it. cates that too much material is being applied.
[Figure 6-21]
If the pattern is too heavy in the center, even with
the spreader adjustment valve wide open, either too
much material is coming out or the material is too
thick. Closing the fluid valve a bit should improve
the shape of the pattern. If not, thinning the mater-
ial should help. If the spray pattern splits or is too
thin in the middle, too much air is coming through
the wing port holes and the spreader adjustment
should be shut down a little. Improper material vis-
cosity can also cause this. A jerky or intermittent
spray can be caused by air getting into the fluid line
from an air leak or by too little material in the cup.
A banana-shaped spray pattern is caused by the
wing-port hole being plugged on the convex side of
the pattern. Remove the air cap, soak it in thinner,
and blow out the holes with compressed air. Too Figure 6-21. Hold the spray gun about one hand span from
much overspray is caused by too much air pressure the surface; this is equal to about eight inches.
on the gun, and can be cut down at the regulator.
[Figure 6-20]
Runs and sags on the surface may be caused by
To spray the surface, begin with the edges or the cor-
either the gun being held too close to the work or by
ners and move the gun parallel with the surface
too much material being sprayed out for the speed
about a hand span bout eight inches way.
that the gun is being moved. It is also possible that
Begin the stroke of the gun before reaching the sur-
the gun being held at an angle with respect to the
face. Pull the trigger just before reaching the surface
surface or perhaps the material is too thin. If the
and keep going until after passing the end. The
material on the surface is too dry and is rough rather
fan-shaped spray is perpendicular to the wing
6-22 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

which can be set at any angle to give a spray in the When all of the edges and corners are finished,
proper direction for cutting in edges. [Figure 6-22] spray the flat portion of the surface with straight
passes across the surface. Hold the gun level and at
a constant distance from the surface. If the gun is
properly adjusted, the passes should be about 10 or
12 inches wide, and each succeeding pass should
overlap the previous one by about two-thirds of
their width. Proper lapping will give the finish a
uniform film thickness. Arcing the gun rather than
moving it parallel to the surface can cause non-uni-
form film thickness. [Figure 6-23]


Careful planning of the sequence to use in painting
an entire airplane will make the work proceed much
more easily and will minimize problems from
over-spray. Position the aircraft in the paint room so
that moving air will pass over the aircraft from the
tail to the nose. Any overspray should fall on
the unpainted portion. Paint the ends and leading
edges of the ailerons and flaps first, followed by the
flap and aileron wells, the wing tips, and the leading
and trailing edges. Spray all of the landing gear,
wheel wells, control horns and hinges. Before
starting on any flat surfaces, paint all of the difficult
areas then proceed in a systematic way. In some
Figure 6-22. When starting to paint a surface, spray the cor-
ners and edges first, then the flat surfaces. areas, it may be difficult to keep a uniform
distance from the

Figure 6-23. Overlap each succeeding pass by about two-thirds of its width to get a film of uniform thickness.
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-23

Figure 6-24. Improper spray gun technique may cause surface defects.

work surface, but arcing or tilting the gun may cause and working toward the tip, spraying chordwise.
defects in the paint. [Figure 6-24] Jack up the nose of the airplane to lower the tail far
enough to allow painting of the top of the fin. When
Paint the bottom of the airplane first, using a creeper spraying the top of the fuselage, tilt the gun so that
for the belly and the bottom of low-wing airplanes. overspray will fall out ahead of the area being
Prime the bottom of the horizontal tail surfaces first, painted with new material wiping it out. On the
starting at the root and working outward, spraying upper surfaces, apply the primer across the fuselage
chordwise. Work up the fuselage, allowing the spray and spanwise on the vertical and horizontal sur-
to go up the sides, all the way up to the engine. faces of the tail and wing. Allow the primer to cure
Spray the bottom of the wing, starting at the root and use the same sequence to spray on the finish.
6-24 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

Spray the tack coat and final coat using the same
sequence and direction as the prime coat.
It is usually impossible to completely reach across
the top of the wing, so spray as far as can while
working from the root to the tip, along the trailing
edge, then from the tip back toward the fuselage. Tilt
the gun back so the overspray does not fall on the
rear half of the wing where the paint has hardened.
Use a very thin coat of acrylic lacquer to wash out
acrylic overspray. It softens the film enough for the
overspray to sink into the finish. Dried overspray from
any material other than polyurethane can be worked
into the finish by spraying a mixture of one part
retarder and two parts thinner upon the surface while
the overspray and topcoat are still fresh. The surface
softens enough for the overspray to sink in resulting in
a glossy surface. Enamel overspray isn't as bad as lac-
quer or dope because it dries much slower.

Once an aircraft has been painted, control surfaces

must be checked for proper balance. The exact
requirements and procedures for balancing can be
found in the manufacturer's service manual or by
contacting the manufacturer.


As with any precision tool, a spray gun will provide
satisfactory results for a long time if it is properly
maintained. The spray gun is especially vulnerable
and must be kept clean. If using a suction cup or
gravity cup, immediately after spraying, dump the
material from the cup and clean it. Pour thinner into
the cup and spray it through the gun. Pull the trig-
ger repeatedly to flush the passageways and clean
the tip of the needle. Spray thinner through the gun
until it comes out with no trace of the material.
Figure 6-25. Properly cleaning the spray gun will keep it
When cleaning pressure-fed guns, first empty the operating correctly and extend the life of the equipment.
gun and related hose by loosening the air cap on the
gun and the lid of the pressure pot. Pull the trigger
after covering the air cap with a rag. Atomizing air Material should never be left in the gun because it
backing up through the gun and the fluid line will will set-up and plug the passages. If the passages
force all of the material back into the pot. Then become plugged with dope or acrylic lacquer, disas-
place thinner in the pot and replace the lid. semble the gun and soak the parts in acetone. If not
Spraying thinner through the hose and gun will flushed out immediately after use, catalyzed materi-
clean the entire system. als such as epoxies and polyurethanes will set-up in
the gun and hoses. If this happens, discard the hoses
After cleaning the inside passages of the gun, soak the
and clean the passages in the gun by digging out the
nozzle in a container of thinner. Do not soak the entire
material. This is not only time consuming but there
gun in the thinner since the packings may be ruined.
is a good chance the gun will be damaged inside.
Lubricate the air valve stem and all of the packings
around the fluid needle with light oil. They will con-
tinue to operate smoothly and remain soft and pliable.
Because of the number of variables that need to be
Tighten the packing nuts finger-tight only. (Figure 6-25)
controlled in order to attain a good finish, closely
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-25

follow the procedures suggested by the spray gun MASKING AND APPLYING THE TRIM
manufacturer and the paint producer. Before pro- After the base coats are complete, install the trim
ceeding, it is always helpful to practice painting on details. Applying the details of the aircraft finish
a surface with the same qualities as the aircraft. can be the most time consuming portion of the
Once ready to begin painting, realize that recogniz- process. When changing colors for trim details,
ing errors and problems quickly is a good way to allow the base paint to dry sufficiently before mask-
avert a potential repainting job. Some of the most ing off the areas for this work. Fortunately there are
common problems and their characteristics include: time- and cost-saving materials and methods to
Rough Finish ope or paint is too cold or help, but working with basic materials will usually
viscous. The aircraft, dope, and cost less.
should all be at the same temperature, about MASKING FOR THE TRIM
70 F, before spraying. Masking an aircraft and getting it ready for the
Fabric Will Not Tauten abric put on too trim may seem to be a minor operation, but there
loosely. Fabric remains undoped for too long. is a lot more to it than meets the eye. Consider
Too much retarder used for thinning dope. that modern finishes will penetrate some of the
more porous masking products, so use only the
Blushing umidity too high. Moisture in spray
system. Dope applied over a moist surface. best quality masking paper and tape. Newspapers
and masking tape bought at the supermarket will
Pinholing or Blisters ater or oil in spray not stop the finishes from seeping through or
system or on surface. Undercoat not bleeding under, and the few cents saved using
thor anything less than the best can cost an entire top-
oughly dry. Too fast surface drying. Film coat coat job. [Figure 6-26]
too heavy.
Bubbles and Bridging ope too cool, or not
brushed out properly. Temperature of dope
room too high.
Runs and Sags se of improper equipment.
Incorrect adjustment of equipment. Improper
thinning or faulty spray technique.
Dope Will Not Dry il, grease, or wax on sur
Dull Spots orous spot putty or undercoat-
ing, allowing dope or lacquer to sink in.
Bleeding rganic pigments or dyes used in
the undercoats which are soluble in the top
coat solvents.
White Spots ater in spray system or on sur
Paint or Primer Peeling ax from stripper or
detergent from cleaning process may still be
on surface.If dope is applied over old paint or
enamel, the old paint will softened and even
tually peel from the surface.
Brown Spots il in spray system.
Orange Peel praying with too high pres
sure. Use of too fast drying thinner.
damp draft over surface.
Wrinkling eaction between solvents
Figure 6-26. Before spraying any finish, mask off all of the
primer or undercoats. parts not to be painted with a material that will not allow
Overspray rong spray technique. Too fast any finish to bleed through.
drying thinner.
Fisheyes ilicone, wax, or polish contamina
tion on surface. Oil from air compressor.
6-26 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

The most important thing about the trim is to attain When masking an aircraft, allow the finish to dry
good, smooth edges and usually the quality of the for the length of time specified by the manufacturer.
masking tape determines this. When spraying over Allow the primer to cure and use the same sequence
the edge of the masking tape, the film will build up to spray on the finish. Spray the tack coat and final
to the thickness of the tape edge, and when the tape coat using the same sequence and direction as the
is removed, a thick edge is left. If the finish dries prime coat, and do not allow the tape to remain on
before the tape is removed, the edge will not only be the surface any longer than is absolutely necessary.
thick, but rough as well. If the tape is put on several days before the trim is
sprayed, and especially if the aircraft has been in
To get the sharpest line, use an extremely thin the sun or has gotten hot, it is probable that the tape
polypropylene tape A tight edge is formed and the will cure to the finish and be very difficult to
finish cannot bleed under. Do not use this tape for remove. If this happens, use aliphatic naphtha to try
blocking off the entire surface, just for the edge of the and soak the tape free.
trim. Back it up with regular crepe masking tape and
cover the large areas with high quality masking paper. LAYING OUT REGISTRATION NUMBERS
The placement of registration numbers on an air-
After masking off the surface, spray the finish, and craft is specified in 14 CFR Part 45 of the Federal
as soon as it is no longer tacky to the touch, remove Aviation Regulations. All aircraft use a Roman font,
the tape. Pull it back at an angle of about 170 but the placement and size of registration numbers
degrees, just far enough away from the fresh finish varies for each aircraft. For rotorcraft, lay out a set
that the tape will not get on it. By pulling the tape of numbers horizontally on both sides of the fuse-
back over itself, it can be removed without pulling lage, cabin, boom, or tail. The numbers should have
up any of the still partially soft trim, and the finish a height of 12 inches. If the surfaces do not allow
will flow down smoothly and not leave a thick edge. for the full sized letters, make them as high as prac-
[Figure 6-2 7] ticable, but at least two inches high. Generally, heli-
copter numbers should be on the side of the fuse-
lage below the window line and as near to the cock-
pit as possible.

For fixed-wing aircraft, place the numbers between

the trailing edge of the wing and the leading edge of
the horizontal stabilizer, or on the engine pods if
they are located in this area. If this is not a good
location, place them on both sides of the vertical
tail. Marks on a fixed-wing aircraft must be at least
12 inches high unless the aircraft has a maximum
cruising speed of less than 180 knots and is an
experimental, exhibition, or amateur-built aircraft.
For these aircraft, the numbers may be only three
inches high. In addition, if the aircraft was built at
least 30 years ago and is thus classified as an
antique, it can have two-inch-high registration num-
bers on its vertical tail or the sides of its fuselage.
Certificated aircraft that are registered in the United
States must display the capital Roman letter N fol-
lowed by the registration number of the aircraft. If
the aircraft is registered in a foreign country, it will
have its own distinct number, letter, or combination
of the two. The number must be two-thirds as wide
as it is high, except for the number 1 which is
one-sixth as wide as it is high, and the letters M
and W which may be equally wide as they are high.
The letters must be formed with a solid line that is
Figure 6-27. Remove the masking tape by pulling it back
over itself as soon as the finish becomes tacky to the touch. one-sixth as thick as the character is high, and the
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-27

Figure 6-28. International aircraft marks identify the country in which it is registered.

ing between the letters or numbers may not be less ters, make the tool about 14 inches long and two
than one-fourth of the character width. [Figure 6-28] inches wide. Scribe a line down its center and mark
lines across it that are two, four, six, nine, and
APPLICATION twelve inches apart. [Figure 6-29]
Newer developments make the task of laying out
registration numbers much easier. Today there are
pressure-sensitive vinyl numbers available that
may be stuck on the aircraft and provide a profes-
sional looking job with a minimum amount of skill
and time. These stickers have also been used on
larger commercial aircraft in place of expensive and
detailed paint schemes. There are also commer-
cially available stencils, which are simply stuck on
and spray painted over. When the finish is no longer
tacky, remove the stencil and the registration num-
bers will be perfectly spaced.

There is always the possibility of having to lay out

the numbers without any of these aids, and for this
eventuality there are two tools that can easily be
made. The template similar to the one in figure 6-29 Figure 6-29. A lettering tool may be made of light metal or
has been the standard of the industry for years. It is transparent plastic. These two examples can be easily
made and used to lay out any letter.
cut from thin sheet aluminum and has the numbers
eight and one together. Any letter or number can be
laid out with this template. As soon as the finish is sufficiently dry to allow tap-
ing, locate the proper spot on the aircraft and block
A tool that is easier to make and one that works so out the space for the numbers. Lay out the numbers
well that it is used by many painters is simply a so they will be directly in the line of flight. Start by
piece of flexible metal or transparent plastic with laying down two strips of thin polypropylene mask-
some marks scribed on it. For the 12-inch charac- ing tape that are perfectly parallel and are as far
6-28 Aircraft Painting and Finishing

apart as the height of the numbers. These strips grade of crepe masking tape and sheets of masking
serve as the top and the bottom of the numbers. If paper. [Figure 6-30]
the numbers N46382 are to be laid out, the block
will have to be 58 inches long and 12 inches tall. When masking is complete, check the layout care-
fully to be certain no letters or numbers have been
Using the layout tool, mark out the blocks for each forgotten or that some area that needs to be painted
of the characters, which will be eight inches wide has not been masked. When the layout is correct,
and separated by two inches. Since all of the mix the finishing material and spray. When it dries
dimensions for the characters will be the same as enough so that it is no longer tacky, remove the
those marked on the layout tool, it is a simple mat- masking.
ter to mark out all of the lines. Lay out all of the
blocks with a soft lead pencil. Do not use a ball DECALS, MARKINGS AND PLACARDS
point pen as the ink will migrate up through almost The final part of any finishing operation is complet-
any finish applied over it. Use narrow polypropy- ing the mandatory markings and placards. This
lene tape for all of the edges of the characters and includes all of the service markings, safety warn-
the holes. Mask large areas further with a good ings, capacity and grade markings, and a myriad

Figure 6-30. Block numbers and letters in a Roman font can be produced in the proportions shown here.
Aircraft Painting and Finishing 6-29

other items. Decals, or decalcomanias, are the most toxic chemicals produces a need for extra caution,
frequently used. They consist of printing or silk so it is important to emphasize a few safety pre-
screening upon a clear film with a paper hacking. cautions. First, never use a dry broom to sweep
Remove the backing by soaking the decal in clean, overspray from the paint room or hangar floor. This
warm water until it separates, then transfer it to its material is usually highly flammable and the static
final position. electricity from sweeping can ignite it. Always
hose it down with plenty of water and sweep it
Some placards are printed on vinyl and transferred while wet.
the same way as the vinyl registration numbers.
Some registration numbers, placards, and special- When a fabric-covered aircraft is being dry-sanded,
ized markings are fabricated from High ground the aircraft structure, especially if the first
Performance 3M or Calon Vinyl. After application, coats of finish were nitrate dope. Static electricity
a 7-year-plus life can be expected. A wide variety of from the sanding could cause a spark to jump inside
colors and shadowing can be done with these the structure and ignite the fumes.
decals. Others are applied to a surface that is
flooded with a detergent mixture, which allows for Do not stir finishing materials with a beater attached
their placement before a squeegee is used and they to an electric drill motor. The sparking brushes
become permanently applied. Still others are small could ignite the fumes that are stirred up. If the
metal signs that are applied with a MIL-SPEC material should ever catch fire, simply cover the
cement. There are so many different types of decals flame and smother it. Even a piece of cardboard will
in use today that a general set of directions is cut off the oxygen.
impossible. In all cases, the placards should be
applied as specified in their instructions. One word Human eyes are very sensitive to airborne chemi-
of caution: the airplane is not airworthy until ALL cals and paints. If any finishing material gets in the
of the required placards, "warnings, safety and ser- eyes, flush them immediately with plenty of water.
vice instructions have been applied. In addition to the sensitivity of the eye, lungs, nasal
passages, open cuts, and even exposed skin can
show signs of irritation. When painting around the
SAFETY IN THE PAINT SHOP top of a vertical fin or in any high place, use a good
The very nature of aircraft finishing has an element scaffold, rather than trying to reach too far from a
of danger. Working with volatile and sometimes shaky stepladder.