Lessons in painting proccesses for aircraft
By Michelle Garetson
Aircraft paint schemes are not just about looking good on the runway or in the hangar. The type of pain tthe "canvas" (airframe), and especially the application and the upkeep all need to be considered before deciding on Maui Blue or Rainforest Green.
Paint is more than aesthetics — it affects the weight of the aircraft and its aerodynamics. Paint helps to protect the integrity of the airframe. It can also impact the economics of operation as the more downtime incurred from frequent painting and paint maintenance, the less time the aircraft is available for revenue-generating assignments. However, the aesthetic aspect can affect how "safe" one feels about an aircraft. Seeing chipped and cracked paint around a doorway as one boards the aircraft will give one pause as to how well the rest of the aircraft is maintained.
Once while boarding a small, commuter plane, a passenger looked out the window and exclaimed to the rest of the group that there was a crack on the engine and that he was not going to fly on this plane. Granted, the pilot came for a looksee, and in an effort to appease the passenger, sent for the maintenance crew to check it out.
Our passenger-induced maintenance resulted in a flurry of panic for many onboard who quickly consulted their airline timetables for another flight. As it turned out, the "crack" in the engine was a split in the paint on the nacelle. The inspection and subsequent diagnosis took very little time, but it took almost an hour to get some of the passengers calmed down and back on the plane.
Painting is an art
Aircraft painting is an art and a skill. Given the myriad of materials being developed for airframes, the aerospace coatings industry must keep pace with every advancement and those who perform paint application must also stay current with new products, new technologies and new application techniques.
In November 2000, The Sherwin-Williams Company opened a 25,000-sq.-ft., state-of-the-art facility in Andover, Kansas, near Wichita, for its Aerospace Coatings division. The new building incorporates training classrooms, customer service offices, color blending labs, and research and development offices.
A 20-ft by 45-ft., temperature-controlled paint booth is the highlight of the facility as it will be used to train application technicians of all skill levels in improving their craft.
No matter what type of environment these technicians work in — whether it’s Miami in July, Minneapolis in December, or something in between — the paint booth can be programmed to achieve those conditions so that technicians can best learn how to perform painting and depainting processes within those constraints.
Stuart Mack, Director – Technical Development for Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings is responsible for the development of the various training programs on offer at the facility. The curriculum covers a wide spectrum of painting and depainting issues, as well as safety and environmental matters.
The inaugural training modules began in February 2001. Mack says the people who should attend the training courses vary from application technicians – of all levels of expertise – to supervisors and managers, to salespeople and distributors. Each of these groups will benefit from obtaining a better understanding of the tasks involved and best practices for painting aircraft.
"Class size is limited to 12 people right now," explains Mack. "We will continue to revise and develop the curriculum with feedback from attendees."
Some of the training modules available involve Depainting and Preparation for Painting; Topcoating; Touch Up and Spot Repair; Interior Coatings; Equipment and Spray Environment; and Safety and Environmental Issues. At the end of the training, attendees are awarded a Certificate of Completion and shops are presented with plaques from Sherwin-Williams.