towel. Removing this black goop now is critical; if you
wait, it’ll set up like shellac, or it’ll contaminate the
next step in the process and you’ll have to start over.
Finally, wipe the airplane down with a microfiber rag
sprayed with glass cleaner to remove any residue from
the mineral spirits.
It may take more than one pass with a particular
grade of polish before you’re ready to move on. Fores
suggests you may end up applying three or more passes
with F-grade polish before you’re even ready for
C-grade. At about 25 hours per pass (his time; yours
may vary), this isn’t a single-weekend project. (Even a
finish polish may take 2 0 hours, he says.)
Next, Kerry uses an intermediate polish, Nuvite’s
C-grade. He applies it the same way as the F—except
with its own pad. Never mix pads. He marks each of
his with the grade it’s used for.
With that pass done, he’ll clean up again for his
final pass with Zephyr Pro 4 0. He applies it with a
4-inch Wen orbital polisher wrapped with a microfiber
towel. “Apply it with one towel, work it in, and take a
clean towel and take it off,” he said. In addition to
really popping the shine, that combination also eliminates the swirl marks from the first two steps.
Mike uses a two-step process. He starts with a
medium-grade polish, Rolite AP300, which he applies
with a De Walt right-angle rotary polisher set at a low
speed (about 1500 rpm) and fitted with a cotton pad. If
he’s got older skins, he might start with more aggressive
polish than AP300. That’s particularly true if the al-clad
has worn away (vintage Cessna owners, take note).
After the AP300, he’s ready to finish polishing. He
likes Nuvite S-grade, and he applies it with a Cyclo polisher (a two-headed orbital contraption) wrapped with
a cotton rag. He uses it sparingly to save cleanup time;
a dab about once every 8 inches or so in a 2-foot area
does the trick. Mike then gives the airplane a final
wipe-down with RejeX on a microfiber towel, which
protects against exhaust trails and bug splats.
HOW DO I KEEP MY AIRPLANE LOOKING GOOD?
By polishing it—again, and again, and again. If it
needs a touch-up, just a medium-grade polish, then a
finish grade will bring it back. “The orbital polisher
and the finish grade of polish are generally all you
need,” Tom said.
As far as actual frequency, though, that depends on
several things, like how much you fly and how well you
clean the airplane afterward. Also consider the envi-
ronmental conditions where you keep your airplane: A
well-ventilated hangar will keep shine-spoiling dust
down, and hot, humid areas will require more care
than dry climates. “If you keep the contaminants off
the airplane after you fly, it’ll last quite a while,” Mike
said. “You may want to polish it once a year, you might
want to do it twice a year.”
Even if you keep up the maintenance, you’ll still face a
couple of other—let’s call them environmental—issues.
Bird poop is a big one. Wipe it off quickly, or you may
have to go all the way back to an F-grade to get your shine
back, Kerry said. Water spotting is best avoided, too; dry
the airplane quickly, or the spots will etch in. And you’ll
need to know how to clean off fingerprints. For whatever
reason, passersby are
compelled to touch
shiny aircraft, so
you’ll get them in
spades, Kerry said.
Glass cleaner on a
microfiber rag works
well if you get to
them in time.
For whatever reason,
compelled to touch
CAN I POLISH A PLANE THAT’S BEEN PAINTED?
A painted airplane that’s been stripped will take some
work to get a shine back because of the chemical etching
that allowed paint to adhere. If you’re restoring a classic,
let the stripper do its job; even then you may have to do
some light sanding, Mike says. Carefully, he adds. Then
you’ll need a medium-coarse polish for stripped metal
(such as Nuvite F9). Try polishing something inconspicuous before committing to the entire airplane, to see if
you’re happy with the results. Sometimes the surface
may be too etched to polish. To read an Oshkosh 365
forum discussion on polishing airplanes, visit www.
Kerry Fores works for
Sonex Aircraft and
flies his own polished aluminum
Tom Numelin is the
owner of Perfect
Polish Inc.and flies
a 1946 Globe Swift.
Savor your hard day’s work. But first, clean up your mess.
This is dirty business, so factor in some time to mop up.
It’ll take some dedication to do your polish job
right, and not everyone has it. But if you do, you’re on
your way to creating a work of art—one that reflects
well on you, too.
owns Midwest Aero
P- 51 restoration
Live Bait won
at EAA AirVenture