How Are Aircraft Painted? Part 1 of 3

Commercial Aircraft Painting Process Explained 

Have you ever wondered how airplanes have glossy and crispy exteriors? If you did, you are in the right place. In this article, we will discuss Aircraft Painting in detail.

Are we painting every aircraft on earth? Mmmm, actually no! We have an interesting fact on this; we will reveal it in the end of part 3!

Why Should We Paint an Aircraft? 

Yes, cosmetic beauty matters, as you guessed, but is it the only reason for painting an aircraft? No, there are a few main goals we expect from painting an aircraft:

  • Protecting base metal from corrosion, erosion, and FOD (Link the FOD article here).
  • Reducing skin friction drag.
  • Improving the cosmetic beauty of the airplane’s exterior.
  • The aircraft fuselage is the best billboard in the world; it travels all around the globe. We can use it for advertising.

If we are buying a brand-new aircraft directly from the manufacturer, they are doing the paint job. We can ask them to paint whatever the design we want, and the cost will be added to the base price of the aircraft.

If it is an aircraft that has been painted already, stripping old paint is the first step in the painting process. We can paint on top of the old paint, but it adds unnecessary weight; which equals more fuel burn for some old paint!

We will discuss the painting process step-by-step to have a clear understanding.

Stripping the Old Paint

There are two main methods used to strip the paint off from an aircraft: sanding the old paint or using a chemical to dissolve old paint. Sanding an entire aircraft is time-consuming, and it can damage the outer skin if performed incorrectly. Using a chemical solvent to dissolve the old paint has been a go-to option as it’s fast and safe.

Then an acid etch solution is used to wash all the scrubbed parts. This helps to remove all the oil and dirt on the aluminum surface.

There may be some paint leftovers even after washing away the solvent. Scrub those places with Scotch-Brite (or similar) with an alkaline aviation cleaner to strip the leftovers.

Inspecting the Exposed Fuselage

Once the paint stripping is completed, we can have a closer look at the bare metal of the aircraft. Several inspections are performed to detect flaws such as loose rivets, corrosion, and cracks. If we wait too long to repaint, we might expect some corrosion underneath the paint coatings; some porosity exists in paint coats that will allow moisture through it.

Preparing Aluminum Substrate

Then an aluminum conversion coating such as Alodine (or similar) should be applied. As same as the acid etch, this coating should also be washed away. Conversion coating may turn aluminum gold or green.

Now we are done with preparing the aircraft for the paint job, next in-line is the most exciting part everyone wants to experience: painting the exterior. Part two in this series is dedicated to painting the metal bird with wonderful colors, and will cover all you should know about a standard paint job in the aviation industry. Sit back and hold tight for the paint job to come!

Keywords: Aircraft Painting, Aircraft Painting Process, Commercial Aircraft Painting 

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