By Meghan Welch
At Elliott Aviation, our world-famous paint shop has been delivering flawless finishes in our down-draft, climate-controlled paint booth since 2007. We’ve completed hundreds of paint refurbishments from the most complex pearl and metallic finishes to standard schemes. Most operators may not know that the application of the paint is only one small step in the entire process. In order to ensure maximum adhesion for the longest-lasting paint job possible, we follow a six-stage paint process for your aircraft.
The Design Process
The design session for a paint refurbishment is done in advance of aircraft arrival and it serves several purposes. A completed design allows the operations team to order the proper materials. It is also used as a guide to complete the layout of the aircraft. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, it allows a customer to see what their finished product will look like even before the project begins. Prior to the session, our team will get a sense of the types of paint jobs that are of interest, including colors, schemes, and any mandatory elements like logos or other special considerations. There really are not many limits when designing a paint job and our designers can help creatively deliver just about any custom design that you can imagine, from mild to wild. Design sessions can be completed at Elliott Aviation’s headquarters in Moline, IL, or remotely.
The Paint Process
A complete strip and repaint of an aircraft happens in six, in-depth stages. The first stage is the incoming inspection. This includes an evaluation of any incoming damage, scratches, corrosion, fuel leaks, pre-RVSM check, and any other areas of that could cause concern. This process is completed with a video camera for reference purposes. During this stage, the aircraft is also wrapped in preparation for the next step.
The second stage is where the aircraft is stripped of its existing paint. Typically, the aircraft will receive two coats of a peroxide-based paint stripper. During this step, the aircraft will also be hand sanded and cleaned to remove any existing stripper and sanding residue.
The third stage involves etching and Alodine. This step includes an alkaline washing of the aircraft to neutralize the acidity. Etching the aircraft cleans the aluminum, including pores. The application of Alodine inhibits corrosion and promotes paint adhesion.
The fourth stage is where primer/surfacer is applied to the aircraft. The corrosion primer is applied for protection of the aircraft. The surfacer primer is applied for aesthetic purposes. Awl Quik is an option available for some aircraft to fill smiling rivets.
The fifth stage is where the paint is actually applied. The base coat is applied first and once completed, the aircraft is masked for stripes. Depending on the paint, between 2-6 coats may be needed. After each coat, the aircraft is baked overnight in the climate-controlled paint booth at 110 degrees. In addition to climate control, the paint booth features a downdraft airflow to give a smooth, even airflow in all areas of the paint booth. The exhaust is at floor level, which minimizes the potential for outside contaminants. We have invested in these technologies to provide a faster drying, harder finish, with maximum paint adhesion.
The sixth and final stage of a paint refurbishment is the finish and detail. During this step, flight controls are balanced and installed, all seams are sealed, and bright work is completed.
View the Entire Process in This Time-Lapse Video
What’s the Downtime?
The typical downtime of a standalone paint refurbishment is approximately 18-22 days, depending on the complexity of the paint scheme and size of the aircraft. If other services are needed, like maintenance, interior, or avionics, this downtime can be longer. Most reputable paint shops have a pretty significant backlog, so it is important to schedule early so your materials are ready and there are no delays.
When completing a paint refurbishment, knowing the entire process can help you understand the great lengths we take to ensure the longevity of your paint job. Paint should not just be an aesthetic decision, but it should also be viewed as a way to protect your aircraft from the elements. Contact us for your next quote.
Meghan Welch joined Elliott Aviation in 1998 as an Aircraft Sales Assistant, subsequently helping build the paint and interior sales and design department. She was promoted to Interior Sales and Design Manager in 2015 and later to Director of Paint and Interior Sales in 2016.