Ever wondered what it takes to paint an aircraft? We take a look behind the scenes as Monarch aircraft G-OZBZ is given a fresh new look before it enters into service in the Monarch fleet.
The story in numbers:
• Monarch aircraft model A321 – registration G-OZBZ
• 9 days to paint the aircraft fuselage & fin
• 10 to 12 aircraft painting specialists, each with 10 to 20 years experience
• 360 litres of primer & paint
• Paint layers no more than 250 microns (0.25mm) thick on completion
First step, checks and scaffolding
The first task was to fly G-OZBZ down to a specialist aircraft painting company in Bournemouth called Airbourne Colours. The A321 would spend about 9 days being stripped down and repainted by a team of 10 to 12 highly experienced specialist painters each with 10 to 20 years experience. The team in Bournemouth would be in constant communication with Monarch operations teams and engineers during this time.
When G-OZBZ first arrived at the painter’s hangar, a Monarch engineer carried out an acceptance check on the aircraft. This check included removal of window wipers and a series of other tasks such as disconnecting batteries.
Next, the painting specialist’s hangar supervisor and a Monarch engineer worked together to check on the condition of the current paintwork and assessed any damage. While this check was carried out, a team put scaffolding into place around the aircraft. There had to be enough scaffolding to give access to every point of the aircraft during the painting process.
Second step, masking and stripping
There are two kinds of paint job that you can give an aircraft – a strip or an abrade (otherwise known as a ‘rub’). A strip involves the use of chemical washes to remove the paint back to bare metal. During a ‘rub’ the aircraft fuselage (the body of the plane) is sanded back to a smooth finish ready to accept paint.
Generally the fuselage and fin are stripped as these are made of metal but the engines and wings and rubbed as they are made of composite materials.
G-OZBZ needed a fuselage strip and repaint, so the next step was to cover or ‘mask’ all the areas which needed to be protected from sanding dust and paint overspray, for example the cockpit and cabin windows. As the wings weren’t being painted (just the ends were to be painted yellow), these were also masked. Masking was also applied to sensitive items such as ports, antennae, aerials and engine intakes.
The metallic areas were then chemically stripped back to bare metal, a process which includes a power wash and alkaline shampoo. The tail fin and engine cowlings (covers) are made of composite materials, so these were abraded, followed by a solvent wash. Once all the paint was removed and sealants checked and repaired or replaced, Monarch engineers carried out a bare metal inspection to check the state of the aircraft before painting commenced.
Then, it’s time to paint
After masking, a team of 10 to 12 people hand-sprayed primer to the fuselage.
Once the primer was dry, a layer of white paint was applied to the fuselage.
Next, yellow paint was sprayed on to the tail and once dry, the indigo was applied to the underneath of the fuselage and Monarch’s famous spotty M logo was added to the tail.
There are a number of mandatory markings and Monarch titles that need to be put on the aircraft. These are a combination of decals (industrial stickers) and paint. The Monarch title for instance was applied by placing a massive spray mask (or stencil) over the fuselage and spraying the mask with paint.
Aircraft paints are designed to be tough in order to withstand extreme environmental conditions as well as corrosion, chemicals, and rain erosion. However, unlike paint you might use to protect your home, aircraft paints also need to be incredibly lightweight and the completed paint job was allowed to be no more than 250 microns thick (0.25mm or about 0.01 inches).
Taking all the primer, white, yellow, purple basecoat and the clear coat together, the total amount of paint used was about 360 litres.
Finally, it’s very important to the safe and efficient operation of commercial aircraft that we know how much everything weighs. When the painting was complete, G-OZBZ was given a ‘calculated reweigh’, which compared the thickness of the new paint to the original paint. These figures were sent to a loadmaster company to produce accurate trim data for the aircraft, which will be used eventually by the pilots and other people in operations.
Ready for take off!
What do you think of the final result? Does G-OZBZ look presentable? Share your thoughts in the comments below