A Lost Art?

A Lost Art Fabric covering restoration By Katie Heuermann July 2001 Working on fabric covered airplanes is almost a lost art. Many of us hone our fabric skills in A&P school, only to never put those skills to use after we get our...


Applying color
Color can go on if you are satisfied with the product at this point. With Ceconite, the color can be colored butyrate, which will have a flat, matte finish. It will not adhere to metal surfaces or fiberglass. For these areas, enamel can be matched to the butyrate color. Urethane can be used on fabric, metal, and fiberglass. It will have a wet-look finish. Poly-Fiber colors are called Poly-Tone™ for the matte finish color, and Aerothane™ is the brand name for their urethane product that gives the wet-look finish. Poly-Tone is not good for metal or fiberglass.
One thing to keep in mind when deciding which way to go: In either system, the matte finish products are easy to blend if a repair is ever needed. The urethane wet-look colors will be impossible to blend after repairs. A typical spray gun and compressor system is adequate, but an HVLP spray system is best for all spray coats, especially for the color coats. A respirator needs to be worn anytime spraying is going on — nothing less than a fresh air source respirator when spraying urethanes.

imageDamage repair
Damage with either of these methods can be repaired. The size of the damage and the area it is in will determine the type of repair. Consult AC 43.13 and the STC manual for the best way to proceed.

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Rejuvenating the finish
The covering job should last many years if applied and cared for properly. Yet over time, the finish may, especially with dope products, need to be rejuvenated. Ringworm (fabric defect) is not too common anymore if the correct product was used originally, but for cracking and brittleness, rejuvenators are available. These products soften aged, dry paint, and they add plasticizers that give flexibility to the finish. These can be used only on the matte finish colors. Urethane colors cannot be rejuvenated. After the rejuvenator is used, new topcoat paint goes on again. It is still work, but not as much as a total recover.

Paperwork completion
After the recover or repair job is complete, remember that the job isn’t finished until the paperwork is done. Just a log entry is required for small repairs. A logbook entry and a Form 337 will be required on total recover jobs. The Procedure Manual is part of the STC, and should be referenced. If only one wing is covered, it still requires a 337 as a major repair under FAR43 Appendix A. That section is clear about what is and is not a major repair or alteration. If there is any doubt, check the regs. The aircraft will also need to be weighed after any major recovering and amended weight and balance entered into aircraft records.
Your pride will soar when you see an old bird take to the skies again — one that was recovered through the nearly lost art of fabric restoration.

Editor’s note:
Photos used in this article were taken at American Champion Aircraft manufacturing facility in Rochester, Wisconsin. Although they use a slightly different approved process for the Ceconite fabric installation, including the use of pressure sensitive tape, the photos were useful in illustrating the various steps in fabric restoration.

About the Author
Katie Heuermann is an A&P/I.A. and Private Pilot. She is the owner of Penrose, Colorado-based Chinook Air.

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