Painting an ultralight, Latex painting method for painting your ultralights or ultralight aircraft.

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Jerry Bunner's Ultralight Aircraft Painting Method

Experimental Paint For Your Homebuilt

This describes a painting method, which is highly experimental in nature, and if you choose to use this please be advised you do so at your own risk. The ONLY way to paint and finish any airplane is with certified and proven methods.

I have experimented for 10 years using different painting methods to finish fabric on light experimentals. The alternate finishing methods can and will hold up well given proper application and protection from the elements.

My first attempt at painting was using Mike Fisher's latex method. It was my conclusion that this would not provide the level of finish that I wanted to see on my airplane.

In 1994 I built and finished a Nieuport 11, (Graham Lee Design) and covered it in 1.6oz Stitts. I used a combination of black latex primer to fill the weave of the fabric and industrial polyurethane oil base paint for the finish. This experience started my search for a better method. My goal was a serviceable finish that would look good and avoid the need to spend the large amount of money for the certified stuff!

Here is what I have come up with and I might say it works well, looks good with a nice gloss and is very easy on the pocket book. This finish goes on easy, and the need for elaborate spray painting facilities is eliminated.

Seal aircraft with wood sealer if it is a wooden airplane. There is no need to finish an aluminum tube structure if it is not flown near salt water. For the RagWing Special I am building I am using 2 brush coats of MINWAX OUTDOOR CLEAR SHIELD POLYURETHANE WOOD SEALER. This material is applied unthinned but brushed on in thin coats. I use satin finish so that I may see better where I have brushed.

If you are using the STITS FABRIC (1.7oz) you can brush a thinned coat of POLY-TAC cement over the fabric gluing points. Use your Stits manual for further information on this. The cement can be thinned with MEK SOLVENT and I used about 50/50 cement/thinner. Let this dry and then the fabric can be applied and the cement under neath the fabric can be re activated by brushing 50/50 cement through the fabric at these areas. After the fabric has been applied and shrunk then the tapes that you're using for reinforcement and or rib stitching/attachment can be applied using this same glue combination. A little iron run along the rough spots will smooth them and make sure that they are attached well. I use a Modelers Heat Shrink Cover Iron for this process.

Clean the fabric with a clean cotton cloth and solution of MEK. Just dampen the cloth and wipe the fabric with it. Remember that this stuff is a strong solvent and is capable of melting the glue joints and dissolving your Polyurethane wood sealer. If you just dampen the cleaning cloth and wipe the surface of your covering job this will remove the sizing and other contaminants on the fabric. If you do not do this the paint will not adhere very well.

Using a Good Quality Tac Cloth wipe down the area to be painted BEFORE EVERY STEP!

Using EMPIRE POLYURETHANE LATEX PRIMER thinned with 30% FLOETROL LATEX PAINT CONDITIONER and a 3" FOAM PAINT BRUSH, brush the primer into the fabric using span wise strokes. This is the first coat so do not try to fill the weave completely with this first coat. If you do you will have runs inside the fabric and just in general make a big mess. Repeat this process using cross coats until the fabric weave is filled. This will take 3 to 4 coats. Be sure to let the paint dry well before each application. If you use nice even brush strokes there will be no need to sand before final paint application. The FLOETROL will help the paint flow out into the fabric and be self-leveling. It also adds flexibility to the paint. Minor brush stokes are acceptable to me but you make you own decision about sanding. Preparation is the key to a great final finish. No short cuts here.

Using ENTERPRISE GLOSS POLYURETHANE OIL BASE ENAMEL and a 4" WIDE 1" DIAMETER WHITE FOAM PAINT ROLLER roll the first coat of finish color onto the fabric. The finish will be much smoother if you put the paint on a smooth surface to apply it to the roller. I used wax paper taped to a smooth surface. Remember that you are not trying to apply the complete finish coat in one step. Roll the paint out to a nice even coat and when the paint begins to tack stop rolling. The urethane paint will self level as it begins to cure. All you are doing here is to apply the paint evenly and get most of the air bubbles out of the finish color. Time between coats will be about 24 hours depending on humidity. The finish color will take 2 to 3 coats depending upon the color you choose. You should have a very glossy finish.

After the paint has cured for at least a week, clean the painted surface and wipe on a coat of SON OF A GUN PROTECTANT or similar to protect the paint and give the surface some UV protection. I clean my paint job often and keep a coat of this protectant on at all times.

The paint samples that I have done over the years have spent their entire time out door in all kinds of weather in the state of Indiana. This system seems to hold up well and still look good after all of this abuse. Please do your own samples and satisfy your self as to your technique and results. Best of luck and happy aviating.

For further information contact Jerry Bunner


Graham Lee's Nieuport II single place WWI replica aircraft.
Graham Lee's Nieuport II single place WWI replica aircraft.

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