No Ordinary Paint Job: The CF-188 Hornet

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News Article / August 13, 2021

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Captain Bettina McCulloch-Drake, 1 Canadian Air Division Headquarters Public Affairs

 

When you want to paint your house you can find the necessary paint in a variety of home hardware and paint specialty stores. When you want to paint a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) fighter aircraft, however, you need something that can survive speeds in excess of two-thousand, two hundred kilometres per-hour (or Mach 1.8).

“It is a very specific type of paint that we have to order,” says Captain Jeff Chacko, a WSO (Workshop Support Officer) with Aerospace and Telecommunications Engineering Support Squadron (ATESS) located in Trenton, Ontario. “The paint has specific properties that enable it to be in effective in operations.”

“Greater attention, therefore, has to be given when painting these aircraft,” continues Capt Chacko. “If there are imperfections in the painting, there can be losses in aerodynamic efficiencies that can have more significant consequences like accelerated fuel burn and accelerated deterioration of the aircraft skin.”

Tasked to paint the first six Australian fighter aircraft purchased by the Government of Canada to supplement Canada’s CF-188 Hornet fleet, ATESS has a dedicated team of ten aircraft structures (ACS) technicians who sand, prime, and paint each aircraft that comes into the squadron’s paint bays. Trained and authorized as aviation painters these technicians follow procedures laid out by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to ensure the highest quality of work.

The first step to any paint job is to prepare your workspace, cover or tape any surface that is not to be painted (e.g. air intakes, exposed areas where controls exist), and put on personal protective equipment such as respirators and Tyvek suits.

“The second step in painting an aircraft is to sand down the surfaces to remove old paint and markings,” begins MCpl Nick Fedele. “Sanding also reveals any surface imperfections that need to be rectified before painting begins.”

Even with the assistance of power tools, however, sanding can be very taxing physically especially in warm weather. “We ensure that our techs get the rest and hydration they need during the procedure,” reveals Capt Chacko. “We also rotate our techs in and out so that work can remain continuous once started.”

Once sanding is completed, all of the surfaces are washed down and the shroud coverings that are in place to fill gaps in the aerodynamic structure as well as certain panels are removed for ease of painting. Then the primer, which enables the paint to adhere better to the metal, is applied across the entire surface of the aircraft.

After the primer has dried the first layer of paint is applied.

“We use paint gun systems that include pressure pots and mixers,” says MCpl Steve Leblanc “The pressure pots help to keep the flow of paint consistent enabling us to apply a smooth coat over all of the surfaces that are to be painted.”

Once the first coat of paint is applied the technicians will let it dry for one day. Then, the second coat, along with any markings and decals, are applied.

When all of the painting is finally complete on a single aircraft, a total of eight to ten gallons (or between 32 and 40 litres) of NATO standard grey paint has been used.

 

 

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