A professional engineer tests five popular aircraft covering
After months of work, you are finally at the point where you need to decide on the type of fabric and covering process to use on your airplane. You have worked hard and are anxious to complete this final phase of the project. You search for answers by carefully listening to other owners and by reading vendor literature. However, the dreams of the first flight and putting closure on the project can cloud your judgment when choosing the most appropriate type of covering method to use. Every vendor claims superb results with a minimal amount of work.
It is easy to become frustrated with the lack of unbiased information, and you need help to find the best way to cut through all the hype. I recently participated in a joint research study conducted by Oklahoma State University and the University of Missouri-Rolla Coatings Institute that tested the performance of five FAA-approved covering systems. Some of these findings may help you choose the covering system that's right for you.
Let's Test Covering Processes
Most of the large aircraft in production today consist of an all-metal design manufactured with lightweight aluminum alloys and steel. All-metal construction provides strength, durability and excellent resistance to weathering. However, there are many small aircraft in service today that have fabric covering the wings, control surfaces and fuselage. Fabric aircraft covering is strong and lightweight, but it is much less tolerant to the environmental factors of heat, cold, moisture and sunlight.
Because the deterioration of fabric covering can have catastrophic consequences, the materials, workmanship and inspection of fabric used to cover aircraft must be in strict compliance with FAA standards. There are several FAA-approved aircraft covering processes that use organic high-grade cotton or synthetic polyester fabrics. Each process claims to offer the best quality, strength and resistance to environmental deterioration.
But fabric quality and performance aren't the only considerations. Limited budgets require that in addition to finding a process that offers quality, strength and environmental resistance, we find a method that will be cost effective over the life of the aircraft.
The OSU/UMRCI study compared the relative effectiveness of five FAA-approved aircraft covering processes to resist degradation over an accelerated weathering life cycle. The covering processes I compared were Grade-A cotton with Randolph dope, Ceconite with Randolph dope, Air-Tech Coatings, Cooper Superflite II, and Stits PolyFiber. The year-and-a-half study compared …