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What Causes Planes to Corrode?

Preventing corrosion can be a hassle, but it’s essential to protect the integrity and appearance of your aircraft. In order to effectively prevent corrosion—or remove it, if it’s already there—it’s important to understand what exactly causes corrosion to occur on aircrafts.

Factors That Affect Corrosion

Many factors can not only contribute to corrosion, but also affect the type of corrosion that occurs, the seriousness of it and the speed in which it sets in.
The environment is one of the biggest factors to cause corrosion and determine how serious the damage is once it begins. The more an aircraft is exposed to seawater or salt air, the higher the risk of corrosion on the surface and throughout the different parts of the aircraft. In fact, many people are hesitant to purchase an aircraft that has been used in areas along the Gulf Coast or in the Pacific Coast region because of these planes have been exposed to such damaging elements. Moisture in the air is perhaps one of the greatest risk factors for corrosion, so if at all possible, store and operate your aircraft in a dry climate as much as you can.
Temperature can also play a role in how fast corrosion spreads, but it cannot directly cause corrosion. For example, rising temperatures can speed up electrochemical attacks and increase the damage caused by this form of corrosion, especially if the climate is not only hot, but also moist.
Manufacturing processes can also make your aircraft more susceptible to corrosion. For example, machining, forming, welding and any kind of heat treatment can leave stresses within the aircraft parts. Later on, if these parts are put in a corrosive environment, the stresses can cause cracking and serious damage.
One of the most common factors to cause corrosion on an aircraft is foreign material such as dust, oil, grease, water, battery acids, cleaning solutions and flux residue. All of these factors can cause corrosion if left on the surface of your aircraft for a long period of time. To keep these foreign materials off of your aircraft, make sure you are conducting frequent inspections and thoroughly cleaning every area of the plane, even the hard to reach areas.
If your aircraft goes without frequent cleanings, mold and fungi can begin to build up on the surface. Fungi and mold both trap moisture close to the surface, so corrosion is more likely to occur when these factors are present. These factors are common in warm, moist environments such as the Gulf Coast. If you live in this type of climate, be sure to keep your eye out for mold and fungi buildup on your aircraft.
Another factor that can affect corrosion is the size and type of metal used on the aircraft. Unfortunately, the metals which are most suited for aircraft construction also happen to be the metals most prone to corrosion, such as aluminum and magnesium. Pure metals, which are not prone to corrosion, cannot be used in aircraft construction unless they are combined with another type of metal to form an alloy.
Now that you know what can cause corrosion, take the necessary steps to prevent it from happening on your aircraft.

How Can Corrosion Be Prevented?

Despite improvements over the years in aircraft materials and protective coatings, aircrafts are still vulnerable to corrosion and oxidation. Luckily, aircraft owners do not have to sit around and wait for corrosion to set in. Be proactive and take precautions to prevent corrosion from occurring. Do your part to prevent corrosion by:

  • Frequently cleaning your aircraft
  • Conducting frequent inspections to detect corrosion before it causes serious issues
  • Treating corrosion with a metal polish as soon as you spot it
  • Keeping drains free from debris and any other type of obstruction
  • Frequently draining any fuel cell sumps
  • Regularly wiping down any exposed areas that are prone to corrosion
  • Placing protective covers over the aircraft when it is not in use
  • Sealing the aircraft to protect it from water damage during bad weather, and properly ventilating it in hot, sunny weather

All of these steps are equally important in order to prevent corrosion. It may seem excessive, but preventing and/or treating corrosion in a timely manner is the only way to avoid expensive and frustrating repairs.
If you choose not to follow a regular inspection and cleaning schedule, you are accepting the possibility that corrosion could be present and accumulating slowly. The longer that you wait to remove corrosion, the more damage will be caused to the structure of your aircraft, meaning you will have to perform more costly repairs.

Removing Corrosion From Your Aircraft

Don’t give up hope if you happen to notice signs of corrosion on your aircraft. There are ways you can remove it before it causes structural damage. Once you spot signs of corrosion on your aircraft, act quickly by applying a metal polish designed to remove oxidation, corrosion and scratches from the surface. Besides the polish, you will also need a drill with a strong motor, preferably one that is able to reach inside the different nooks and crannies of your aircraft. A buffing pad can also come in handy when your aircraft has deep scratches that need to be removed. Be sure to check the type of both the buffing pad and the polish before you make a purchase to determine whether they can be used together. After you have applied the polish, it is recommended you use a wax ball to add an extra layer of shine and protection to the aircraft. If you get the right kind of wax ball, you can use it with the drill you used to apply the polish. Wax balls can also get rid of any scratches or tarnishes left over after the polish has been applied.
If you closely follow an inspection and cleaning schedule, and make any necessary repairs as soon as possible, you won’t have to worry about corrosion preventing you from using your prized aircraft.

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