Covering System Options

For general discussion of the Just Aircraft family of aircraft.
Includes: Highlander, Escapade, Summit and SuperSTOL.

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Re: Covering System Options

Postby SheepdogRD » Sat Mar 21, 2015 7:52 pm

I chose Oratex. The "no-painting" factor was its original attraction for me. I wanted the plane to look good, but I didn’t want to mess with paint booths, paint guns, paint-grade compressor systems, breathers, and toxic chemicals. Although I can do okay with rattle cans, I’m not an experienced painter, and it’s not a skill I want to develop.

I wanted a better finish than I could do, so I knew that I'd have to pay someone to paint the finished plane. Oratex completely eliminates that expense. And the lighter weight -- from eliminating primer, filler and paint -- will balance a few of the “extras” on our Highlander.

But “no painting” also means no primer-filler and no sanding out mistakes. The surface to be covered has to be very smooth before the glue goes on. I invested some hours getting things cleaned up. Still, I’ve seen the number of hours it takes to sand an airplane between applications during the painting process, and the time I invested cleaning up before covering was nowhere near that.

I agree that the Oratex finish is not the same as a painted airplane. It’s more of a satin finish than high gloss. But our silver Oratex stands up to the factory-painted silver any day. That said, even the factory silver isn't a very glossy color. I haven't seen planes covered in any other Oratex than silver and white (white, in the lightweight version, is pretty pale).

The edges of the pinked tapes don't fill with paint and smooth out. They're right there to be seen. I like the way the tapes look, and think they give fabric airplanes a character and quality that I appreciate, so I look at our Oratex and find a smile on my face.

I decided I'd rather build than cover, so our Oratex was done by Covergirl (Leila Blankenship) of Just Aircraft fame. After seeing Leila’s work on other aircraft, it was an easy decision to have her cover ours. Now that I see how ours is turning out, I’m even more impressed. I've helped her a little, played with a few pieces, and done some testing on my own, but she's done the work on the plane.

She notes that Oratex is reminiscent of other systems in the way it's applied, but some of the techniques used are very different. Leila could probably write a treatise on the positive and negative aspects of the various systems. I suspect each has a few areas that suggest the creative use of vocabulary.

One thing that's pleasantly different about covering with Oratex is that there are no harsh chemicals around. Compare that with the brain-jellying solvents in the air when gluing or sealing standard Dacron-based covering systems.

It's amazing to go from a completed bare part to a finished part simply by covering it and applying tapes. In some cases, I still have to rough up, mask off, and paint the powder-coated hinges and control arms that stick out (either before or after covering). But that's small and easy rattle-can stuff, and there's no paint booth involved. I've found an excellent match for the Oratex silver in Rust-Oleum Metallic Silver acrylic paint. It’s used in such small quantities that I can work outside, so I don’t affect the air in the shop or the house.

Complaints? Yeah. I’d like to see the Germans who make the stuff let go of the reins a little and stock it in this country. Right now, almost everything comes in air freight from the factory. The rest gets shipped in from the dealer in Alaska, which isn’t very central to the continental U.S.

And a 6-month shelf life on the adhesive is just too short. It’s supposed to be stored in a refrigerator, but can’t be allowed to freeze (until after the fabric is ironed on). Replacing hardened adhesive is expensive. Actually, it isn’t just the adhesive; all of the Oratex fabric and supplies are expensive. I've never heard of anyone using Oratex to keep the up-front costs down.

Despite those quibbles, I really like this stuff, and I’d choose it again.

As Rampil points out, this is a dirt-bike sort of an airplane, not a show plane, and I expect to hose and wipe it off, not wax it. I figured I'd need the "easily repairable" feature of Oratex.

But we may not need to repair it as much as I expected -- I'm already amazed at how tough the fabric is. I had the tailwheel up off the ground on a block, and forgot how high that made the rudder. I opened our powered overhead garage door, and the bottom bar of the door grabbed the back of the rudder and moved the plane a little. Hitting the plane caused the drive to reverse, and then the top bar of the door jammed against the front of the rudder. By that time, I got the door stopped. After some muttering at myself, I lowered the tail and checked out the fabric. The Oratex is completely intact with no discernible marks. Awesome… just the sort of finish our dirt-bike airplane needs.
Richard Holtz
Highlander N570L -- Ms. Tonka -- in gestation

If just enough is really good, then too much ought to be perfect.
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