How do they make their Spartans so shiny?

If you’re like me and do not own a beautifully polished aluminum aircraft, you may wonder how they keep them so shiny. Of all the taildraggers that get my heart pounding, a perfectly polished, shiny C-140, C-195, Globe Swift, Ryan, or best yet, Spartan, will stop me in my tracks. Bet you know exactly what I’m talking about!

With Spartan owner Jim Savage’s permission, I am reposting his recent Facebook post. This is how it’s done – and damn those black lines! Enjoy all Jim’s great photos.

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What do you do to make the Spartan so shiny? That’s a question I am often asked and the answer may be easier than you expect. Obviously, it takes quite a bit of polishing, using quality polishing supplies and good polishing techniques. Many individuals with bare metal airplanes know that and do both. The missing piece has to do with how light behaves when it reaches the airplane. Specifically, it is either reflected or it is absorbed. The more light that is reflected, the shinier the airplane appears to be.

NC17634 owned by Jim Savage

NC17634 owned by Jim Savage

The trick is to eliminate anything that absorbs the light. In the case of the Spartan, it has minimal paint trim, so there is more surface available to reflect light. Of course, that holds true for many bare metal airplanes. The other source of light absorption is the tiny black rings around each of the rivet heads. Although often unnoticed unless you are specifically looking for them, almost every bare metal has these light absorbing rings, including some that have been judged as Grand Champions. They originate during the normal polishing process and over time and many polishings, they slowly accumulate. With the passage of time, these rings become extraordinarily difficult to eliminate.

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

Black rings

While a tiny black ring around a single rivet doesn’t seem like much, consider what the cumulative amount is if you have 9000+ polished rivets, as is the case with the Spartan. To the best of my knowledge, there is no magic potion that easily removes the black residue. It is simply a matter of finding a process that works best for you and then proceeding one rivet at a time. While the removal of all traces of black from the rivets of an entire airplane is a daunting task, the results are clearly noticeable.

These are some pictures of what rivets (and seams) look like with and without the black residue.

No black

No black

No black

No black

No black

No black

No black

No black

No black

No black

No black

No black

Thoughts For The Aspiring Metal Polisher

  • The job is never finished. By the time you get to the final section of the airplane, the first section you did is now ready to be re-polished.
  • Perfection is not possible. Regardless of the quality achieved, you will always have sections of the airplane you believe can and should be improved.
  • You are your harshest critic. Others will consistently judge the final results to be far better than you do.
  • At most shows, many who stop by to look at the airplane will tell you they have a friend who has the most beautifully polished airplane in existence.  Just smile.  Many others will offer suggestions about products and techniques to achieve better or faster results.  Again, just smile.  However, make a mental note of what they are recommending and if it sounds interesting, put it on your list of things to try.
  • There are three major, but unequal, components of polishing. They consist of effort, technique and materials. While all are critical components, effort is most important. The real amount of effort required is far more than most people would ever imagine.
  • Cleanliness during the polishing process is also critical. Once a buffing pad or polishing cloth has been used for a particular product or grade of polish, never use if for something different. If a polishing pad or cloth touches the floor or any other unclean table or surface, do not use it again.
  • Don’t be cheap. Polishing cloths, buffing pads and quality polishing supplies are expensive. While it is possible to wash certain items, they do not work as good as new materials. If you want the best result possible, use the best materials possible. If you do decide to wash something, don’t use your family washing machine! That mistake will cost you.
  • You can never have too many buffers. No one buffer will satisfy all of your needs. At a minimum, you will need a dual head Cyclo Buffer and an automotive style disc buffer. Smaller specialty buffers are useful for concave and difficult to reach areas. Having more than one of each type buffer is useful when you are using multiple grades of polish. That will reduce the amount of time associated with frequently changing buffing pads.
  • Although rare, you might have someone make a sincere offer to help you polish. Don’t do it! At best, you won’t be satisfied with the result, and at worst, they may actually damage the metal. If someone is going to damage your airplane due to a polishing mishap, it needs to be you.
  • To paraphrase a famous quote – – fingerprints happen. Beautifully polished metal is like a magnet for human hands at airshows, but those fingerprints are also an indication of a quality polish job. Just another reason to smile.
  • Finally, the job is never finished. Polishing is truly a never-ending task; so in that spirit, go back to the top of this list and start over.
Oshkosh 2016

Oshkosh 2016

Osh 2016

Osh 2016

Osh 2016

Osh 2016

For more about Spartan aircraft visit http://vintagespartanaircraft.com/

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