About four months after the Citizen of the World returned to the United States from her record setting polar circumnavigation, she went in for new paint and interior at Art-Craft Paint, Inc. in Santa Maria, California. The Citizen had earned the major makeover after enduring some of the roughest treatment Mother Nature could throw her way during the flight over the Poles to 22 countries on six continents.
The goal was to prepare her for a new high visibility mission for the year ahead as a STEM Education platform. The Citizen of the World will be visiting various aviation events across the United States including the Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo, EAA AirVenture, the NBAA Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition, as well as various museum events. The Citizen will have a Redbird Flight Simulations Inc. flight simulator with her so aspiring pilots can hop in the seat and fly five high-stress flights that include the North and South Poles and a cyclone out of Madagascar.
To accomplish this lofty makeover goal, Teresa Arredondo from Art-Craft Paint, Inc. suggested we make the Citizen “look the part.” Being new to airplane makeovers, I spent a week at their facility observing, talking to the team, learning more about the process and my plane in the preparation and makeover. I would like to share what I learned about the difference between a good paint job versus a great paint job with those of you that feel it’s time to spoil your aircraft as well. Why not? With interest rates at an all time low of 1.2% it makes sense to bust a move and help spur the aviation economy!
Eliminate flammable materials
We were surprised, maybe even shocked, to find out parts of the interior of the Citizen of the World were done using highly flammable materials intended for use only in cars. In aviation, using these cheaper materials is forbidden because it turns the aircraft into a flying roman candle complete with large amounts of billowing deadly black smoke. Sadly, this huge detail was missed during the pre-buy, but needed some immediate attention. Technically, an airplane without the proper flame retardant materials is not airworthy. For me, this was a chilling fact considering I just flew my expedition with six extra fuel tanks—five of which were in the cabin just inches behind me.
Cover the seams with aluminum tape before stripping
Many companies skip this important step when painting your airplane. It will save you about 40 hours of labor but when the plane is stripped the chemicals make their way into the seams and start breaking down the sealant that you rely on to keep the airplane airtight. It takes about two years for this to become a major problem. The stripper acts like a cavity that just gets worse and worse and reduces the integrity of that seal. It actually does more damage to your aircraft than the extra hours of labor will do to your wallet.
Add survival stripes
Why not take this stellar opportunity to increase your chances for survival as a pilot in the air and on the ground? After a few conversations, Teresa she made a priceless suggestion. She proposed that we add two bright red survival stripes across the center section of the wing. Sounds like a small thing, but if you ever go down—whether it be over Antarctica or your local mountain range—you will be several times easier to find with your emergency signal built into the top of your wing!
Add a ceramic coating and get your shine on!
Ceramics are inexpensive way to use modern technology to literally take your plane that extra mile. In the process you extend the life of your paint job by five years for a fraction more expense. Additionally, you can reduce the number of times you need to wash your aircraft each year, save the planet, and make your baby look like a mirror! This is professionally applied and you can use it to see yourself in case you left your mirror at home. On my two circumnavigations I found this increased my speed by 1-2 knots and as a result the range was extended as well. A ceramic coating is a great way to save money in the long run.
Add a little sparkle
Want an inexpensive way to spruce up your paint job and make it stand out? How about adding some pearl luminescence to the paint? The cost is minimal and all of a sudden that boring baby blue looks like something special. You will surely turn a few heads on the ramp with this small, but significant upgrade.
Take the opportunity to replace hard to reach parts
There are only two times when the control surfaces are removed from your aircraft. First, during a proper paint job, and secondly during an accident investigation involving them. The bearings that are now magically exposed are inexpensive and they are critical components of flight. You might as well replace the bad ones while you have access.
When we had the control surfaces off the Citizen of the World, the mechanic at Art-Craft Paint, Inc. noticed that the airplane’s rod ends did not match those in the parts manual. A few calls later we found that someone had installed the wrong ends. The Citizen was definitely giving up her secrets after all these years and asking for a little help so she could always perform at her very best over the most remote parts of the planet.
Balance the control surfaces
A fast or inexpensive paint job will skip this critical step and it can be dangerous. If you want a good flyer, then you have to take the time to first weigh the control surfaces when they come off, compare that information to what the factory recommend, and then check them again once they are painted. If you skip this step, you also run the risk of creating an unwanted resonance that you never had before. That smooth flying plane may not be so smooth if you skip this step.
Find a shop that takes a personal interest in your plane
In the process of working on the Citizen of the World the Art-Craft team started to get attached to this historic and special lady. As a final touch, everyone who worked on the aircraft signed the inside cover of the avionics bay which was then clear coated. Charles Lindbergh did this same thing with the Spirit of St. Louis.
As with everything in aviation, you have to be patient, crack your wallet, be methodical, and pay extreme attention to detail. You might as well do it right while you have the opportunity. You will regret it later if you don’t. Remember, your paint job represents who you are so you might as well present the best you can if you are going to make those new colors soar!
Please stop in and say “Hi” at Sun ’n Fun, NBAA, EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, and some select AOPA Fly-Ins. Teresa and I will be there and we would love to hear your thoughts on our museum quality STEM education platform.