Corrosion shop gives aircraft new ‘shades’

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mikaley Kline
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The harsh fluorescent lights shine brightly down on an F-16 Fighting Falcon that resembles a child's unfinished toy aircraft model.

With half its two-toned brown paint sanded away and swirls of green underneath the paint, the F-16 looks as if it had been submerged under water for 50 years rather than just coming off the flightline at Nellis Air Force Base.

The F-16, assigned to the 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Viper Aircraft Maintenance Unit, was brought into the corrosion shop to undergo a full paint job. The aircraft was transforming from a two-tone brown to an arctic paint scheme consisting of black, gray and white. 

"On a standard F-16 like this, it'll take us about a week to finish repainting it," said Jeff Dezell, 57th Maintenance Group Corrosion shop lead. "It's kind of cool because on a Monday the worst looking jet in the fleet will come to our shop and on Friday the best looking jet will go out. It's rewarding from that point of view. It's like making them brand new again."

A day or two before going to the corrosion shop, an aircraft will go to the wash rack to be cleansed.

"An aircraft will come in on a Monday morning where it'll be jacked up and the gear will be retracted up into the airplane," said Dezell. "Next thing we'll do is mask off all the areas that don't require paint or can't be painted over. After that we'll start the process of scuff sanding the aircraft which is usually a two to three shift operation."

Having a swift and efficient team of aircraft painters in place helps Dezell determine where they'll be in the painting process and on what day of the week they'll do certain tasks on.

"On Wednesday, we'll apply the primer and top coat to the jet," said Dezell. "Then on Thursday and Friday we'll apply the stencils and local markings such as the 'WA' on the tail or tail numbers. With four people working on each shift the process takes about a week to complete."

The patterns used on aggressor aircraft are supposed to mirror one another.

"The patterns are laid out in the technical orders, so that what you see on the bottom is mirrored on the top side," said J.J. Ruddell, a 57th MXG corrosion shop aircraft painter. "So if you're looking up through the jet, the patterns should be translucent. You paint from the darkest to the lightest color."

There are nine different paint schemes, but of those nine, six are used on F-16s.

"So the owning unit decides what color they would like the aircraft to be painted based on their needs as well as how many of that particular paint scheme they might need," said Dezell. "We have the Aggressors stationed here, and other than Eielson AFB, you wouldn't see these paint schemes at any other base. We have paint schemes that they don't even have up there. We designed the blizzard paint scheme here and it was coordinated into the technical data based on our original drawings and measurements."

The corrosion shop performs approximately 12 to 15 full paint jobs per year.

"Every aircraft is supposed to be painted on a six-year cycle," said Dezell. "When we're not doing a full paint, we're doing major touch-ups to an aircraft. An aircraft might require a new wing or stabilizer or a new piece added to it because the old one was bad. It may not generate the need for the whole aircraft to be repainted, but it may come in for about three days to have that particular component painted. So, there's always an aircraft in here, they're just not always being fully painted."

For the aircraft painters in the corrosion shop, all the painting is done freehand with a pattern to help guide them.

"It's just the swipe of a gun. That's where the skill comes in because anybody can paint a square box," said Dezell. "In cutting patterns, that's where the true skill of an aircraft painter comes out. The technical data is a shaded drawing of how the final product is supposed to look at the end, plus or minus a foot."