Aircraft Detailing Is More Than "Just A Wash"​

One of the many perks of aircraft ownership is spending an afternoon at the airport, cleaning your pride and joy. However, your hard work might not be enough to protect and preserve the paint and other surfaces from the elements causing detrimental long-term damage. By utilising a professional detailing service, it'll not only make routine post-flight cleaning much easier for you, but you'll have an aircraft ready to tackle the elements for months to come.

In this series of articles on aircraft cleaning, I'll discuss in-depth from my perspective of a professional detailer how you can get your aircraft looking great again.

A Hard Life

Even for a hangared aircraft, the surfaces on airframe components take a beating. It's bad enough that ultraviolet rays damage the paint while parked, but the real damage occurs in flight. Icing, rain and engine exhausts induce further stress on the paint and bare aluminium accessories.

When it comes to aircraft cleaning, forget everything you know about waxing the family car. Carnauba is the main ingredient in many automotive waxes and isn't as effective as the sealants used in aviation-grade treatments. Plus, aircraft paint care is far more involved, and there are numerous steps involved in a professional application.

The first and necessary steps are a thorough wet wash with an aircraft-appropriate soap. However, there are valid arguments against wet washing, given the presence of fluoride and other additives in local water supplies. The concern here is the potential for damage to landing gear component seals, corrosion on electrical connectors, and injecting water into pitot and static systems. For these reasons, dry washing your aircraft becomes a great alternative, which I'll cover in a future article.

Labor Intensive

Many owners naturally attempt a detailing project on their own. But before you undertake your aircraft with a worn paint finish, understand that the process isn't going to be quick and straightforward. Some finishes may be too far gone to gain any improvement at all.

Make an initial evaluation of the paint's condition, if it's chalky, peeling or down to the metal, it's likely time for a new paint job. But in many cases, a skilled detailer can bring some finishes back to life. Still, rejuvenating an aircraft's finish is more than a wash and wax job. Without the proper tools and process, some owners end up doing more harm than good. For starters, don't rely on polish or wax to shine the paint finish because you'll first need to prepare and rejuvenate the surface. This process creates the brilliant shine that you're looking for.

In most cases, you'll need a machine polisher to accomplish the compounding process. By doing so removes old wax, paint oxidation and contaminants. Depending on how involved the decontamination process was, a second wash or rinse may be necessary. Once completed, it's up to you to maintain it. Set your flying schedule, so you have time to wipe off the bugs, grease and exhaust contamination after every flight. Remember, preventive paint maintenance is always cheaper than replacement. I recommend a thorough detail twice a year, after bringing the paint back to life. Climate considerations, of course, can affect this maintenance interval.

But paint isn't the only upkeep. There are also metal surfaces, which addresses the bare aluminium accessories on the airframe, to include some exhaust stacks, leading edges and propeller spinners. Deicing boots require care, too. It's essential to remove debris and old sealant from their surface periodically. Not only will the boots look shiny, protecting them from the elements could extend their useful life while helping them shed more ice.


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