Complex employees ensure aircraft are sealed, corrosion free

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
At Robins, the workers in Bldg. 59 took care of the paint jobs on about 60 C-5s, C-17s and C-130s during fiscal 2014. 

Because of that, aircraft were able to be returned to the units conducting warfighting and humanitarian missions - proof positive that success here equals success there. 

Although it's often the first thing an aircrew notices about an aircraft, there's more to a new paint job than meets the eye.

Early in the programmed depot maintenance process - a seven-gate process that every aircraft must go through - an aircraft's surface must be completely stripped of paint. 

That's important, as removing paint allows for thorough inspections at a later stage. 

When it's time for the 402nd Maintenance Group Corrosion Control Flight to give an aircraft a full paint job - after it's been disassembled, inspected, repaired, then put back together again - there's a myriad of prep work involved. 

Before a new coat of neutral gray paint hits the surface, the aircraft will be sanded, washed, sealed and primed over several days.  

"The paint job is a corrosion control matter," said Frank Jackson, a Corrosion Control Flight painting supervisor. "If it's not sealed, if it's not painted properly, then corrosion will intrude and prohibit the aircraft from flying as it should, causing problems with the metal. It's a protective measure." 

Depending on the paint schedule, and if there's sanding involved, the process from start to finish for a C-17 could take up to seven days.  

That process begins with workers masking various areas of an aircraft, from its windows, radome and engines, to its propellers, antennas and flight controls. That prevents chemical intrusion into those spaces. 

Sanding can take an entire work shift and allows for better adhesion when paint is applied. After a wash, it's time for the sealing process, then it's primed and finally painted. 

In the hangar, two aircraft can be worked on at the same time with one side of the building dedicated to dry functions such as sanding. No chemicals or water are applied here. The other side, a separate facility, is used for painting. 

To ensure safety, workers must wear personal protective equipment such as full Tyvek suits and respirators. 

For a C-17, the process can last about three hours, with up to 15 painters stationed around the plane with paint sprayers and mobile paint carts. 

There are flashing lights outside the building to signal painting is going on inside. During those times, no one is allowed to enter the building. 

A work crew can use 140 gallons of paint on a C-17. 

The paint will be worked the next time it arrives at the complex, which occurs about every five years as part of its PDM cycle. 

Take note that not everyone can just pick up a sprayer and begin an aircraft paint job. 

There's a deliberate method to how it's done. With practice even the most experienced painters are able to gauge by appearance alone how much coating is appropriate for the job, if the paint sprayer is too close to the substrate, if it's too wet or too dry.

David Tudor, with the 402nd Aircraft Maintenance Support Squadron, helps train new and experienced painters. There are 300 painters currently on the schedule throughout the Corrosion Control Flight. 

"It's all about repetition," he said. 

New painters can start on flat surfaces, under the belly, on top of a wing or fuselage. 

"It can take a lot more skill to paint the side of an aircraft for example, where paint doesn't run down," he continued. "Any area on the side, the engines, those can be more difficult."