Have you found your personal or business aircraft looking a little sub-par? Is it lacking that initial glow that it had when you first got it? Aircraft endure a lot in their lifetime, more so than your average transportation vehicle at least. They travel at very high speeds, typically much longer distances, and endure a much wider range of temperatures. Aircraft not kept in a hangar will definitely be exposed to more dirt, grime, and grease over time but even hangared aircraft are susceptible to these threats.
Believe it or not an intense buildup of dirt, grime, and grease actually effects the overall performance of your aircraft and in many cases can actually make flying more dangerous. Things like antennas that are located under your airplane can get caked in grease and affect their reception. A dirty windshield is never ideal either because it reduces your visibility and makes it harder to see where you’re going. Many people also claim that a smooth, clean, aircraft actually increases your plane’s aerodynamics and speed and will essentially save gas.
Plane detailing isn’t just about dirt buildup and keeping things clean. Little gestures like waxing your plane and paying extra special attention to your aircraft’s paint finish not only help it perform better, but your plane will last longer and hold more value incase you think about selling it in the future.
There’s no denying that planes can get real dirty, real quick, but what can you do about it? Demystifying the processes behind plane detailing isn’t as complicated as you may think. Even though planes are much larger and made of very unique and durable materials, a lot of the processes still mimic those of cars or boats. However, the process of plane detailing is still a much more delicate one and you must carefully choose which products and chemicals are safe and effective to use.
With other vehicles such as cars and boats you have a little more leeway, but with planes there are so many little factors you have to treat delicately. So many clients complain about damages done to their aircraft after a company detailed it especially from poor use of rotary buffers. With other things you might be able to get away with machinery help, but because of the delicate nature of aircraft, we believe that utilizing proper techniques and doing things by hand when you can is your best bet.
The Cleaning Process
Before you can get into the later touch ups and polishing steps, you must first give your aircraft a nice clean surface for your products to adhere to. Because there are so many different types of planes, paint, and surfaces out there, you have to adjust your product choice and methods a little to accommodate your aircraft’s specific needs.
Typically you’re going to begin by giving the entire aircraft a good washing down with a hose. Although it may seem like wise idea to use a pressure washer it can be harmful as many aircrafts have leaks around their windows or fuel caps and you will force water inside. It’s also wise to maybe tape off the static ports because it’s never a good idea to get water in there. And whatever you do, do not spray the wheels. This cannot be stressed enough because water can and will get in there which will lead the bearings to corrode and that will easily destroy them.
Because you’re limited much more with an aircraft, owners often don’t have the time or resources to keep their aircraft in a hangar and do not have access to things like hoses and such. If you can’t use a hose simply take a towel or rag and use that to wipe off any excess dust or dirt from your planes exterior. Be sure to shake your rag out and feel free to swap it out completely from time to time if it gets too dirty. Then using a separate rag go over the aircraft again with a spray bottle of Simple Green Extreme Aircraft and Precision cleaner or an alternative quality aircraft cleaner/degreaser.
You can also gently go over any windows and things with window cleaner to remove any smears, smudges, or streaks. If you are fortunate enough to have an outlet nearby, definitely take advantage of that as well. You can plug in a vacuum and suck away any hard to reach areas that may build up dust and dirt. You can also clean a good deal of the interior as well.
Waxing Your Aircraft
Now comes the fun part. After the surface of your plane has been cleaned and excess dirt, dust, and grime has been removed, you’re ready to apply the wax. Wax is crucial because it not only makes your exterior shine and glow but it also protects it from damage. You can use any quality wax you want but some more popular choices include “Nu Finish” or “Aero-Cosmetics Wash/Wax-All”.
When beginning the waxing process you want to make sure you wear latex gloves and use a gentle cloth or applicator pad. It’s important to also work your way around the aircraft in small sections instead of trying to apply wax to the entire surface at once. How big of sections you decide to cover at once should be determined by a few factors such as temperature, weather, location, etc. If you’re outside in direct sunlight and it tends to be hotter, you want to minimize your sections as much as possible. But if you find yourself indoors, away from the sun and heat then you can get away with larger sections at a time. In an ideal scenario you’ll want to be in the shade or indoors but it’s understood that you’re often limited depending on your unique situation.
Basically just rub in the wax using circular motions and once it has dried a little bit go ahead and take another separate cloth and wax it off. Do each section by itself and slowly make your way around the entire aircraft. Remember to be thorough and take your time, the more you do now, the less you’ll have to worry about later.
As you can see, the process for cleaning aircraft is very specific. Many people assume they can just approach it in any way they want and things will work out, and while you may be able to clean your aircraft, you can potentially cause a lot of damage if you’re not careful. Chances are you spent a lot of money on your aircraft and as a result you should approach it very delicately to ensure you get the most out of it. If you enjoyed this reading or found it helpful be sure to check out our other detailing tips/tricks here.