Fabric Covering 101

Sunny shrinking the fabric on an elevator
Sunny shrinking the fabric on an elevator

As far as mechanical skills go, I am the kind of person who can be reciting the “lefty loosey, righty tighty” mantra under my breath while still turning the screw backwards.  I am so bad at working with tools that if I really want Stormy to fix something at the house all I have to do is sweetly suggest that I can do it myself with his tools and he will have the repair done before I can make it to the toolbox.  So imagine Stormy’s surprise when I mentioned that I had always wanted to take the Fabric Covering 101 class at Oshkosh.

I am sure he thought I would be out of there in under 15 minutes, but I figured since I fly a fabric plane it might be nice to understand how it got covered.  Now I haven’t gone crazy; I don’t actually want to learn to rebuild an engine or anything but I figured fabric would be about my speed.  Taking flight is still very magical to me and I would hate to spoil that with too much technical info (most of which I will forget as soon as I hear it)!

Right off, I liked the classroom instructor because he repeated Stormy’s favorite advice over and over which is:  You can try to skimp on airplane repairs (in this case covering) and you might save some money (initially) but if the shoddy work doesn’t kill you, it will probably cost you a lot when you try to sell your plane (if you haven’t made you plane worthless by failing to adhere to the FAA regulations).  I liked this guy and I sure wished that Stormy had been there to hear him.  The instructor explained the different types of fabric aircraft covering and I learned the pros and cons of the Polyfiber process used to cover my little plane.  The thing I was most excited to learn is that this process “does not support combustion.”  I don’t know about you, but I am all about not supporting combustion in my plane whether on the ground or in the air!

After the classroom we got to the good part – the hands on workshop.  In groups of 4, we were given an elevator to cover and with the patient guidance of a woman who really knew her stuff, we all pretty much succeeded.  The process included cutting the fabric, gluing it and IRONING (a skill that I already possessed – yippee!).  The hot iron (yes a standard one that you use at home, calibrated to the right temp) shrunk the fabric and molded it around the curves.  Next we started the process of applying the first finish while she gave us an overview of the many steps still required for a complete skin (reinforcements, rib stitching, many, many coats of various products including UV inhibitors right up to the final coat of paint).  Here is my triumphant group at the end of the class:

About Sunny Weathers

Pilot, motorcyclist and full time RVer. Follow me as I travel all over the US in my Country Coach RV volunteering, making new friends and pursuing a constant outdoor temperature between 70F and 80F. I'll share the fun and the tribulations and any great survival tricks I learn!

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