Prepping for Paint

We are finally going to get the airplane a coat of paint! Coming up on 3 years after the first flight, it is about time. The bare aluminum is very glarey in the sun, and it needs a bit of protection from the elements. Even though the plane is hangared, it does have some little spots of surface corrosion beginning to appear. It is the sort of stuff that you can polish right out, but I’m never going to be someone who spends time polishing the plane. There are plenty of unpainted RV’s out there, and I want my airplane to stand out a bit from the crowd.

There is an endless debate about painting before or after the first flight. I just wanted to get the airplane flying as soon as possible, and I really didn’t have any inspiration for what sort of paint job I wanted. Heck, I didn’t even have an interior in the airplane for the first flight! I decided that for me, I would fly first, paint later.

There are many good reasons not to paint before the airplane flies for the first time. The main reasons are during the Phase 1 testing, you might find issues that would require you to mess up a perfectly good paint job. I had a number of issues during the first 3 years of flying that were resolved, and had the airplane been painted, it would have been a problem. Here is a short list:

  • My steps on the airplane started to crack. This is a known design defect that Van’s has since addressed by adding some welded on reinforcements. I had to drill out all of the rivets holding the steps on the fuselage, sand blast the steps and send them in for welding. I couldn’t imagine removing these on a fresh paint job!
  • I have a heavy left wing, so I did a number of experiments with various trim tab options on the ailerons. As of now, I’m just going to tape on a small wedge under the right aileron. The width of the wedge has been tweaked several times and is now at 5 inches, it is almost perfect. It will be glued on the aileron over the final paint job.
  • My early issues with my single COMM radio got me thinking about at some point adding a second radio. I went ahead and made a second antenna doubler and riveted it to the interior belly skin. I’m going to have the second antenna on the airplane when it gets painted. The second COMM radio for now is my handheld.
  • After I experienced a flat tire, I went ahead and put on new tires. The openings on the  wheel pants needed to be trimmed more, since the replacement tires were a bit bigger (retreads). Cutting into the paint on the wheel pants would have been another problem.
  • My pitot mount under the left wing was the subject of a recall for the welds cracking. I installed the replacement pitot tube that has much better welding. That would have had to be painted, along with the drilled out rivets on the wing bottom.
  • I had a small section of the thin filler crack off on the tip up canopy frame where the fiberglass fairing up front transitions into the aluminum side skins. Not sure how that happened, but I don’t think I scuffed the underlying surface enough. I had to re-scuffed the area, fill in the chipped off area and sand down the new micro slurry on the canopy side rail and it has been fine ever since.
  • I also used a small syringe with the epoxy micro mixture and filled all of the tiny holes in the pull rivets on the tail, rudder, ailerons and flaps. Doing this was totally unnecessary, but after the paint goes on, you won’t be able to tell where any pull rivets are on the airplane.
  • I was also given a tiny fairing for the nose wheel that I bonded on to the front wheel pant.

Now that all of the tweaking on the airplane is more or less completed, let’s finally get started on the process of designing a paint scheme. I didn’t want “white with a stripe”. Boring! I didn’t want to go with a military scheme. I want this airplane to stand out from the crowd of RV’s. Online browsing of various airplane photo sites came up with hundreds of schemes to look at for inspiration. I even attended an EAA webinar about paint scheme designs. The process is a lot more complicated than you’d think. I ended up deciding that I would just hire a designer to come up with the paint scheme. My initial doodles on paper never really lived up to anything. Hiring a professional is money well spent. The design cost is a fraction of what the actual paint job will end up costing. I ended up contacting Jonathan McCormick at PlaneSchemer to come up with a design. I really liked what he has done with many other airplanes. His designs are clean and modern. So many of the more commercial designs (Cessna, Cirrus, Beech, Piper) just look uninteresting to me. Trying to adapt a scheme for a King Air to look good on an RV just won’t work.

After looking at many paint schemes, I decided on not having any white, red, blue, green, brown or orange. I like silver, yellow, black and purple. Yellow is a hard color to get right. It can go from looking bright like a lemon to something more orangey like a school bus. In the end, I decided that there were just too many RV’s out there with yellow and not enough with purple. My wife likes purple, too.

I sent Jonathan an email for a quote and he got right back to me, although he did say he was pretty busy. I didn’t have any deadlines, so we got started just over a year ago. I sent in my deposit and waited. We went through a bunch of iterations to get some likes/dislikes figured out. I got a chance at Oshkosh to meet Jonathan and see some of his work. Here are the first 5 renditions.

I liked the darker colors and the more flowing lines, so another round or two and we arrive at the final design. I wanted some “Tail Art” in the design and decided on some kind of feathery motif.

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The final colors haven’t been decided on at this point, but I want some sparkle in the paint, so there will be some metal flake or pearl in the mix, along with a final clear coat. Purple isn’t a common aircraft paint choice, so I’ll probably be using some automotive paint colors. Getting here has taken about a year, and the date with the paint shop (Corona Air Paint) is arriving this month.

I can’t wait to have her back looking pretty!

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