Sunday, October 14, 2012

Shine it up!

As I worked on my RV-7A project in recent years, in the back of my mind I kept hearing the voice say, "you'll never be able to afford the paint job." Like everything else in aircraft building, the paint job is where people are trying to outdo each other. It's not unusual anymore to see $20,000 paint jobs.

And, sure, I could do it myself -- well, wait, actually there's no way I could do it by myself -- but I don't have the equipment, the facilities, the talent or the patience.

I've thought about a polished airplane, but I've made a few dings and dents in the plane's aluminum over the years of construction. But something interesting happened once I started flying the plane: I no longer cared much about having a perfect airplane and learned to love her just the way she is.

Then I saw this plane at Oshkosh:

Isn't that beautiful?

The paint portion is perfect for my plane since I can't polish the top skin forward of the canopy. I built up the area with balsa and fiberglass. And the paint location is perfect for a plane with lots of fiberglass that needs to be painted.

And the process is perfect, too, because winter in Minnesota does not lend itself to flying. And its accompanying cabin fever lends itself to puttering at the hangar. You know, like polishing.

The next day at Oshkosh, I walked into the Nuvite tent and said to the man, "tell me how to do this." And he did. I probably could've put together a cheaper operation, but I want full bore, dropping about $900 on everything I need to make this happen. Fact: $900 < $20,000. True, there's still money that will eventually be spent on paint, but overall the project should be much more affordable, and -- although I don't much care - the fact is that if you put a nice paint job and a nice polish job side by side, people will gravitate to the polished airplane. This week, I started on the long process by learning more how to do it right. This EAA video -- if you don't mind me saying something good about EAA -- was a great help.

I've decided to start with the tail -- kind of like the order of building -- and work my way forward. First up: the rudder.

Here's the before:

And here's the after:

Now, I accept that this picture doesn't do the part justice. For one thing, I've used only two polishes so far: the F7, which is for deep corrosion and scratches, and the "C" grade, a less abrasive polish. There is a final "S" grade for an absolute mirror finish, but I haven't done that yet because it requires a different process. I'll do the entire plane with the F7 and C polish, and then come back to the "S" grade, hopefully before next Oshkosh. It's a fun process and, yes, it's a long process. When I told other RV builders that I've decided to polish the plane, most every one of them said, "Whoa, that's a lot of work." As if building an airplane isn't. Update 10/22 Pretty!


  1. Thanks for posting the video Bob! I've started polishing mine too; Nuvite as well...hope to be done by Spring!

  2. Bob, is your hangar heated? I started polishing my RV-8 and, like you, I thought the winter would be a good time to do it. However, I think the Nuvite stuff has a caveat about using it only above a certain minimum temperature. My fuselage ended up looking like it had tiger stripes on it and no amount of re-polishing could get them out. I blamed it on not following instructions about the temperature but it may have just been my poor technique. :-)
    Good luck with yours.

  3. Hi Jack!
    Yes, the hangar is heated. But I'll be sure to pay attention to the temp and instructions. Thanks for the heads up.


  4. Bob and others,
    I think it's a great idea. I own an Aircoupe while I'm building my RV-9A, and there is one guy famous in the Coupe world for his polished Ercoupe 415 model. Also, I came across an RV with a mix of paint and polish, photos of both at

    The Ercoupe guy's name is Syd Cohen, email, if you have any questions during your process I know he'd be glad to give advice.