Five Steps To Replace The Fabric On The Wings Of An Antique Airplane

If you are thinking of buying and restoring an old plane, you should learn how to replace the fabric on it. The fabric, originally made from a cotton or linen and covered with a cellulose-based material, was often used to wrap the wings and fuselage when building old planes. Most people have replaced using cotton or linen fabric with using a poly fiber or a polyurethane material, but the process for applying the material to the wings remains the same. Here is an outline of the 5 steps you will need to take to replace the fabric on the wings of an antique plane once the old fabric wears out.

1). Strip off Old Fabric

The fabric is glued onto the ribs and frame of the wings. You need to remove all of the fabric from the wings. Sand down the surface of the ribs and frame to remove the residue from the glue on the wood. You should then clean the frame to remove any dirt and oils on the wood. You want to apply a coating a spar varnish made for the aerospace industry on the wood – do not use the regular varnish you use on furniture at home. The spar varnish leaves an elastic coating that protects the wood and doesn't crack under pressure.

2). Cut Fabric to Size

The piece of fabric should cover the wing span and the top and underside of the entire wing from the leading (front) and tail (rear) edges. You should cut it a little extra longer than you'll need in case you have to adjust the fabric later as you install it on the wing.

3). Apply Adhesive

You need to apply a coating of an aerospace adhesive over the surface of the ribs and frame. First, apply one thin coat of adhesive on the wood and let it dry for about 30 minutes or so before applying another thin coat.  Let the adhesive dry at overnight.

4). Install Fabric

Glue the fabric to the edge of the frame by the fuselage first. Use a heat gun to activate the adhesive you put on the wood the day before. Apply heat to the fabric and frame to firmly connect the material to the wing. Check the adhesive direction's to find out how much heat you have to apply for the adhesive to become fully activated. Stretch the fabric over the top of the wing and glue it to the top and bottom of the ribs on the frame. You will also use the heat gun to shrink and tighten the fabric onto the wing's frame. 

5). Apply Paint

The last step will be applying a coating of paint to match the wing color to the rest of the plane. You should make sure you use a paint that will protect the fabric on the wing from the ultraviolet effects of the sun to ensure the fabric lasts for a few years. For more help, talk to a repair and restoration company, like Planes by Mike.


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