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News | April 16, 2021

FRCSW Paint Shop Adds Finishing Touch to Fleet Aircraft

By Jim Markle

VIRIN: 210416-N-XZ252-0089

Of the various maintenance schedules, repairs and preparations that aircraft undergo at Fleet Readiness Center Southwest (FRCSW), one procedure is common to all: painting.

Painting the aircraft is often among the final steps before returning the asset to its squadron, and at FRCSW, that work is done in Building 466.

"The paint shop is unique in that we are also known as Aircraft Services. We provide service to all of the aircraft platforms processed through the FRC. Our main function is to arrest corrosion on the aircraft that we blast and paint," said Thomas Sapien, Aircraft Services Paint Production Manager.

Staffed by 48 federal artisans and 21 contractor personnel, the commands paint complex also includes a shop in Building 472 for servicing smaller aircraft components.

Shop trades include paint leaders, painters, painter workers and painter helpers. Certification is required in the use of plastic media blast (PMB) for paint removal, completion of paint school and a Low Observable Paint coatings course. Corrosion, fall protection and respirator user training is also required.

Except for the MV-22 Osprey, (which is made of a carbon/epoxy composite requiring hand-stripping using orbital sander) aircraft are inducted to the paint hangar to undergo PMB stripping, priming and painting.

Artisans inspect the aircraft, and afterward, portions including antennas, probes, and windscreen are masked for sanding.

"We are the only shop that puts hands-on and visually inspects 100 percent of the aircraft surface when they are inducted into paint or blast," Sapien said. "We often discover hidden damage when removing the paint as cracks and other defects are exposed."

 "Once the aircraft is sanded, the rough edges from the PMB process are smoothed out and the sanding phase is sold to Quality Assurance (QA). Then the aircraft is stream cleaned, deoxidized to etch the metal and alodined to prevent corrosion. Then it is masked for priming and painting and passed to QA for approval," he said.

After the aircraft is primed and seam pot, it returns to QA for the painting approval. Artisans apply the aircrafts major markings and stencils by hand. The masking is removed, and a foreign object debris (FOD) inspection is held. The aircraft is touched-up, as needed, lubed, and moved to QA.

The paint shop uses both chromated and non-chromated primers, and polyurethane top coats including a Type 4 polyurethane.

"We started using non-chromated primer around 2018. The manufacturer is Deft PPG Aerospace. It is not a matter of cost savings, but of the non-chromated primers being friendlier to the environment and less of a hazard to the employees. Non-chrome primers are actually more expensive than their chromated counterparts," Sapien said.

FRCSW applies chromated primers to F/A-18 Hornet fighters, and H-60 Sea Hawk and H-53 Super Stallion helicopters. The MV-22 and E-2D/C-2 airframes receive non-chromated primers, while the MV-22 and H-53 airframes are finished with Type 4 polyurethane top coats. Low-Observable coatings are applied to F/A-18s.

"Type 4 paint is an advanced performance coating. It is supposed to be longer lasting and resistant to weathering and UV rays," Sapien said. "Painting turn-around times (TAT) average about 10 days for the F/A-18, seven days for the H-60, and the E-2D/C-2 and MV-22 TAT is around 15 days."

Sapien said that the most difficult aircraft to paint is the E-2D.

"Once the aircraft is ready for topcoat, four painters must consecutively apply an even gloss coat to the entire airframe. After painting, the aircraft needs major markings in several different gloss colors. The stencils are applied using three different colors, and there are approximately 1,000 stencils," he said.

"When an FRC aircraft is delivered back to its home squadron, one of the first things looked at is the paint job. The appearance of a newly painted aircraft leaves a good first impression on our customers, and their satisfaction with the paint job helps their confidence in the FRC's workmanship," Sapien said.

"Painting and blasting are a unique set of skills that not everyone can master. We are very fortunate to have this skilled, artistic group of artisans," he added.

Last year, FRCSW painted 130 aircraft and PMB 75.

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