AIRCRAFT PAINT

Skin deep

Industry experts share tips and best practices for good designs and lasting coatings.


Stevens Aviation has a 43,000 sq ft paint shop in Greenville SC. This Embraer Phenom 300 is one of the 36 projects they completed there last year. With a customer base that spans from coast to coast, the company reports that many customers overfly other shops enroute to Stevens.

In addition to downtime and design, Jet Aviation Paint, Composites, Sheet Metal and Avionics Mgr Britt Julius recommends evaluating the processes and products to be used, along with quality assurances such as climate control, application technologies and warranties.

Duncan Aviation has a list of questions and other considerations. "As with other aircraft maintenance, operators should consider several things when choosing a paint facility," Klenke says. "These things should include reputation, experience, capabilities and people.

What paint work has the facility done? How has the paint lasted? How do they stand behind their product? What is their paint warranty? How do they work with composite surfaces, door jambs, windows? Do they provide design services? What is their customer service like? Are there any hidden extras not included in their proposals/quotes?"
All of the MROs surveyed offer a multitude of additional services for business aviation aircraft.

These so-called 1-stop shops can perform major inspections, avionics work and interior refurbishments in addition to exterior paint projects. RUAG Business Jets Sales Mgr Exterior Services Reinhard Imhoff says, "Short downtime is the most important target. This is why RUAG Aviation's 1-stop shop is a big value that combines regular or heavy maintenance with interior and exterior services. A 1-stop shop is very helpful for the operator to get the shortest downtime possible."

Being prepared for the unexpected is also important. "Hidden damages are only visible when the aircraft is fully chemical stripped," explains Imhoff. "Our capability includes sheet metal and composite work in case the aircraft needs sheet metal work due to corrosion, modification or any kind of composite repairs. Sometimes operators are also asking to combine paint with some interior work as well. Scratches in the clear coat of interior wooden parts need smart repair and can be done during the exterior paint work downtime."

Project timelines

King Aerospace has decades of experience refurbishing exteriors of bizjets as large as Boeing BBJs. This Cessna Citation X has a custom paint scheme that fades from silver to black.

A major consideration when planning a paint project is downtime. Royals declares, "Time can vary greatly due to the size, complexity and design of the work scope. Usually an average standard white double color accent stripe paint project will run approximately 3 weeks. Keep in mind there is always the potential of unforeseen issues such as corrosion or damage that will be exposed after paint stripping."

West Star Aviation Program Mgr Paint Dept Mark Birmingham adds, "There are a lot of variables that go into all paint projects. When it comes to the actual painting of the aircraft, it can take an average of 17 to 24 days, depending on size and complexity. From developing the concept, meeting with a designer and having the paint team take over, it can vary from 1 to 3 months start to finish. But, again, each project is specific to that customer's objectives."

Julius explains Jet Aviation's approach, "We offer low downtime with a schedule of 21 calendar days, start to finish," he says. "We operate on a slot plan, which keeps aircraft on schedule and provides owners with a daily plan for each step of the paint process. With our open campus approach, owners can be on the floor talking to our team members at each step in order to monitor progress and performance all along the way."

Duncan Aviation offers a similar time horizon. Klenke states, "The time it takes to complete a paint project will depend on the complexity of the design, the size of the paint facility, the size of the paint teams and the number of shifts they work. Duncan Aviation's standard downtime for complete strip and repaint is 22 calendar days, excluding any major holidays should a paint slot fall into one. Long-range aircraft or custom paint schemes may result in extended turn times. Planning time can also vary greatly from client to client as we work with each customer to create a plan to have their aircraft returned to them in the time they require."

Complex designs

Most business aviation aircraft have a Matterhorn white base with a couple of accent stripes for maintenance purposes. White is easy to touch-up and does not retain heat, which helps keep the cabin cool in the summer. A darker colored base is an option, but operators must check with the airframe manufacturer for restrictions.

Each of the paint shops surveyed have completed some creative designs. RUAG Business Jets has in-house capabilities to bring an operator's vision to reality. Designers begin with a pencil-drawn paint scheme and finish with an approved computer design that includes all measured lines in 2D and 3D. According to Imhoff, one of RUAG's most recent challenges was a multilayered paint scheme with a fading-in effect from dark to light color. This project entailed hundreds of masking tape design lines from nose-to-tail.

Birmingham says, "West Star Aviation's most challenging paint project to date has been a Citation 560 XLS done for Daytona Harley Davidson. This project was done in overall base of titanium metallic, the screaming eagle logo was painted on the nose of the aircraft with flames that traveled down the fuselage. We painted Harley Davidson's bar and shield and airbrushed on the vertical stabilizer along with airbrush work done to the flames and registration numbers.

The result was a stunning exterior look that is truly 1-of-a-kind."
Julius adds, "Jet Aviation produced a dot-matrix design that faded in shade and color across the fuselage. We have completed 4 dot-matrix paint jobs and have used 3 different shapes/designs among the patterns. We always approach a paint job with the recognition that it will be the 1st image that anyone sees and one that creates a lasting impression."

Duncan Aviation is no stranger to unique paint designs. "We love a challenge and on a yearly basis complete some of the most challenging designs in the world, utilizing specialized paints and unique maskings," Klenke says. One of his favorite paint schemes is a Bombardier Global Express completed in 2014.

"At least 150 pairs of hands worked on this large long-range business jet during 5 weeks at Duncan Aviation LNK (Lincoln NE). Those hands spent nearly 2500 hours ensuring every square inch of this creative and detailed paint scheme was applied perfectly. Those hours are backed by hundreds of years of experience spent crafting a skill that relies heavily on intuition. The result was, in a word, breathtaking."

Other unique Duncan designs include a digital camouflage design, a plaid pattern, a bright green base with colorful paint splotches, a psychedelic 3D image with countless lines swirling around the fuselage and a color-changing paint job.

When asked about his company's most challenging design, Royals says, "Stevens Aviation painted a tricolor pearl fade on a Phenom 300. We are also currently quoting a 6 color paint job on another Phenom 300 with beautiful graphics and all flight control surfaces painted to look like carbon fiber." Stevens Aviation's projects include paint services for the US Government, local law enforcement agencies, corporate customers, sports figures, NASCAR and collegiate sports teams."

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