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Vintage aircraft polishing can be the hobby of hobbies – if you know what you’re doing. For decades, enthusiasts have enjoyed restoring and maintaining the finest antique specimens of aviation history. The unique tradition thrives on smart decisions about maintenance and upkeep as well as experienced technique.
Even for the experienced, polishing vintage aircraft is a huge undertaking. The type of polish selected must be versatile enough to address aged surfaces or slightly delicate machine parts and fixtures. It must also be capable of addressing tough appearance issues, like years of oxidation, color swirls, cloudiness and even light body damage.
That’s why it’s important to learn the basics and advantages of finding a vintage aircraft polish that works best with the tools you’ll be using and that can meet the polishing goals you have in mind. Getting the bright work to shine on a vintage aircraft vehicle can be just as rewarding as seeing the mirror-like finish on a new plane – if not more.
The older the aircraft the more caution and care is needed during the polishing process.
The fact that polishing a vintage aircraft that is decades old should be done with the utmost care may go without saying, but we’re saying it. Some might even argue that really antique planes and models should not be polished at all due to the inherent risk of ruining the entire piece all together.
However, this doesn’t mean that all hope is lost if you’re aiming for a bright work shine on some of oldest models out there. The key is to consider the unique nature of the piece you’re working with and to exercise caution accordingly. No doubt a vintage German military plane from manufactured in the 1930’s may need vastly different treatment from one that is of a newer make and model used primarily for private flights. This is important to keep in mind.
Type of metal makes a difference.
Planes have been created using a variety of metals over the years. From the early days of steel barrel and fabric three-seaters to the present day lightweight aluminum jets, the type of metal used makes a huge difference in terms of speed and slight. The same goes for polishing. The emphasis here is not so much on which polish is used, but on the technique used to apply the polish.
Most aircraft polishes are suitable on a variety of metals. These include aluminum, steel, stainless steel, copper, brass and metal alloys. Polishes with an excellent reputation in the aviation industry are versatile enough to handle almost any type of metal and gentle enough to work well even with antique or aged metals. However, applying the polish takes skill and technique and applying the polish on a vintage aircraft may need even more skill and technique than usual.
Pay close attention to the aircraft polish systems.
Many of the aircraft polish offerings come in a variety of adaptable forms including aircraft polish systems. These feature a different polish for two or more phases or desired conditions of the polishing process. Each polish in the system builds up to the final, brightwork finish.
Polishing systems may work brilliantly for any vintage aircraft polishing because they offer a number of choices which can be selected depending on the condition of the aircraft and adjusted to meet the desired finish standards. For example, a vintage aircraft project that requires lots of attention for cloudiness and oxidation issues may need the first or second polish in a polishing system.
Polishing systems have the advantage of containing at least one fairly lightweight polish that is only gently even out the surface. This is ideal for extremely aged planes that require a polish that won’t strip or damage a fragile surface.
Start with thorough preparation.
The best way to get a successful vintage aircraft restoration project is to thoroughly prepare all materials and tools needed first. For a successful polish, it also helps to prepare the aircraft in advance.
You’ll need lots of cloths to get through the cleaning phase. These are best when made of soft cotton, wool or polyester. You may also need paint stripper on hand for old paint and to dissolve seal coats. Giving the aircraft a good cleaning is a great start to any polishing job. Next, it helps to carefully remove any exterior fixtures such light modules and other attachment. This will help the polishing process go smoothly and quickly.
For deep scrapes and scratches it may help to start with a light sanding just to cut down the upper layers of the metal and to even out the surface. Again, caution should be used with extremely older models. In fact, the natural patina on older models may be just the look you’re going for.
Choose your polisher wisely.
To polish vintage aircraft successfully, you’ll need a solid polisher and a fairly large amount of quality pads. Choose a polisher with sturdy housing and a comfortably positioned handle for convenience and flexibility. For heavily oxidized planes, a variable speed polisher may work best coupled with a nice, thick wool pad. This will take care of the large amount of metal mud on initial removal.
Keep in mind that the pads may require lots of cleaning, so it’s helpful to have as many on hand as you can.
Scaffolding is important.
Attempting a quality vintage aircraft polish job means traditional elevation tactics won’t work. Step ladders and lean-to’s are definitely out of the question as these cannot provide the reach and proper positioning necessary to work the polish into the vehicle. Also, these could easily damage the surface of an aircraft or compromise a polishing job already in progress.
Instead, rely on a set of scaffolding of sufficient height to get the job done. Your scaffolding will also need to be sturdy enough to handle the weight of both you and any other equipment or supplies you take along for the job.
Using a light polish can help maintain the shine.
After a vintage aircraft polishing project concludes, you’ll need to consider ways and means for maintenance and upkeep of all your efforts. This means considering a light polish to help maintain the shine. Upkeep polishing can be done as infrequently as once or twice a year to maintain the finish and keep the bright work fresh for year-round satisfaction.