Paint, Polish or Wrap…Oh My!

Building an airplane is a journey. Sometimes I feel the journey never ends. Perhaps that keeps me engaged in my plane or perhaps it keeps me from getting bored and picking up a new project.

Last year was a successful year for the plane. On March 2nd it went airborne and landed rubber side down, shiny side up. To be more specific, not-so-shiny side up. The plane was not polished well. But I was targeting Oshkosh ’16 and knew if I spent time polishing the outside, I wouldn’t have had enough time to complete Phase 1 before Oshkosh.

I met my goal of flying to Oshkosh. Here is a quick video of my journey to the great FISK intersection and then Oshkosh. Sonex 83LJ Oshkosh – 2016

2016 Oshkosh was wonderful, but I flew away with serious paint and polish envy. For 2017, I want to arrive at Oshkosh with a finished aircraft. There are three ways to solve this: 1) get dirty and start painting/polishing, 2) hire it out, or 3) sell the plane and buy a finished RV-9. With an RV-9 on my wish list, it is not practical in my life right now.

Left with option 1 and 2, I went to work with my limited PowerPoint skills. Taking a Sonex 2-view drawing I could start playing with paint options. Before I began it was import to think about my current polishing frustrations. So the list started:

  • The bugs on the leading edge surfaces require management after every flight. Leave them for a few days and your polishing work is 10x worse
  • The root doubler…Hand prints, feet marks, scratches from overnight bags. It is a disaster area
  • The finger prints on the turtle deck just behind the canopy…every hand getting in the plane is like a little sponge of acid just begging to ruin the finish
  • Hands on the side of the fuselage just below the top stringer is another heavily touched area
  • The glare on the outer portion of the wings on a summer day can bake the flight crew with reflections from the sun, not to mention create glare in the cockpit

Then, the list of other considerations came to mind:

  • The transition between the fuselage and the cowling isn’t appealing to my personal style
  • Same for the way the front windshield, cowl, and fuselage merge. It is just a bit too sharp of lines for my style
  • Cowl, wings tips, control surface tips, fairings, etc. all in white are a magnet to the dirt and grime of an experimental aircraft and engine

Other considerations were weight. Having an already heavy plane, keeping the weight down will be important. That eliminates the ability to paint the entire airplane. It also drives up costs, which is another factor.

Opening my Mac and loading the 2-view into PowerPoint I started to put rectangles around each area of frustration. It highlighted the areas I wanted to paint or wrap. The result gave me an idea for a basic paint job while maximizing the polished surface areas. I did consider which areas are easy / hard to polish, but wanted to keep my focus on function and weight.


The basic shape took place. I started then to use the “Curve” line and began drawing. It took only a few minutes to understand how the curve line works and where to click the mouse to start / end a curve. Before long the squares were replaced with nice flowing lines. I added a gradient to the blue color to make it look more realistic.

Quickly, I realized a stripe was needed to create a transition between paint and polish.


After the stripe was added, I concluded the plane looked blue and white, not blue and polished. I added more color to replace the white areas with a ‘polished’ look. Making the grey gradient, the final 2-view got me to finished look I was happy with.


I think it will look really nice in the real world.


This picture reminds me of the movie “The Mask”, a combination of reality and cartoon.


Sending the PowerPoint to a paint shop and an aircraft vinyl shop they were able to provide a quote without seeing the plane. Total cost came in higher than I was hoping for, so that left me with only one option. Time to get dirty and start painting and polishing.

My hangar neighbor has painted several planes and as of this week we are in the process of turning my hangar into a paint booth. Once everything is cleaned, plastic tarps hung, ventilation installed and the aircraft is prepped, we will haul over his paint equipment and my first lesson in painting will commence.

I think the design will not only be easy to manage, unique and cool to look at, but also cost effective and weight conscience.

Now I just need some time so the painting can begin!


2 thoughts on “Paint, Polish or Wrap…Oh My!

  1. WOW!!! That is so cool how you were able to “paint” the plane! It looks real! I think it looks really cool!

    Angie Sent from my iPad



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