Finishing Equipment (Part One)

in Aircraft Painting and Finishing

Paint Booth

A paint booth may be a small room in which components of an aircraft are painted, or it can be an aircraft hangar big enough to house the largest aircraft. Whichever it is, the location must be able to protect the components or aircraft from the elements. Ideally, it would have temperature and humidity controls; but, in all cases, the booth or hangar must have good lighting, proper ventilation, and be dust free.


A simple paint booth can be constructed for a small aircraft by making a frame out of wood or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe. It needs to be large enough to allow room to walk around and maneuver the spray gun. The top and sides can be covered with plastic sheeting stapled or taped to the frame. An exhaust fan can be added to one end with a large air-conditioning filter placed on the opposite end to filter incoming air. Lights should be large enough to be set up outside of the spray booth and shine through the sheeting or plastic windows. The ideal amount of light would be enough to produce a glare off of all the surfaces to be sprayed. This type of temporary booth can be set up in a hangar, a garage, or outside on a ramp, if the weather and temperature are favorable.

Normally, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations do not apply to a person painting one airplane. However, anyone planning to paint an aircraft should be aware that local clean air regulations may be applicable to an airplane painting project. When planning to paint an aircraft at an airport, it would be a good idea to check with the local airport authority before starting.

Air Supply

The air supply for paint spraying using a conventional siphon feed spray gun should come from an air compressor with a storage tank big enough to provide an uninterrupted supply of air with at least 90 pounds per square inch (psi) providing 10 cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air to the spray gun.

The compressor needs to be equipped with a regulator, water trap, air hose, and an adequate filter system to ensure that clean, dry, oil-free air is delivered to the spray gun.

If using one of the newer high-volume low-pressure (HVLP) spray guns and using a conventional compressor, it is better to use a two stage compressor of at least a 5 horsepower (hp) that operates at 90 psi and provides 20 CFM to the gun. The key to the operation of the newer HVLP spray guns is the air volume, not the pressure.

If purchasing a new complete HVLP system, the air supply is from a turbine compressor. An HVLP turbine has a series of fans, or stages, that move a lot of air at low pressure. The more stages provide greater air output (rated in CFM) that means better atomization of the coating being sprayed. The intake air is also the cooling air for the motor. This air is filtered from dirt and dust particles prior to entering the turbine. Some turbines also have a second filter for the air supply to the spray gun. The turbine does not produce oil or water to contaminate the air supply, but the air supply from the turbine heats up, causing the paint to dry faster, so you may need an additional length of hose to reduce the air temperature at the spray gun.

Spray Equipment
Air Compressors

Piston–type compressors are available with one-stage and multiple-stage compressors, various size motors, and various size supply tanks. The main requirement for painting is to ensure the spray gun has a continuous supplied volume of air. Piston-type compressors compress air and deliver it to a storage tank. Most compressors provide over 100 psi, but only the larger ones provide the volume of air needed for an uninterrupted supply to the gun. The multistage compressor is a good choice for a shop when a large volume of air is needed for pneumatic tools. When in doubt about the size of the compressor, compare the manufacturer’s specifications and get the largest one possible. [Figure 8-1]

Figure 8-1. Standard air compressor.

Figure 8-1. Standard air compressor.

Large Coating Containers

For large painting projects, such as spraying an entire aircraft, the quantity of mixed paint in a pressure tank provides many advantages. The setup allows a greater area to be covered without having to stop and fill the cup on a spray gun. The painter is able to keep a wet paint line, and more material is applied to the surface with less overspray. It provides the flexibility of maneuvering the spray gun in any position without the restriction and weight of an attached paint cup. Remote pressure tanks are available in sizes from 2 quarts to over 60 gallons. [Figure 8-2]

Figure 8-2. Pressure paint tank.

Figure 8-2. Pressure paint tank.

System Air Filters

The use of a piston-type air compressor for painting requires that the air supply lines include filters to remove water and oil. A typical filter assembly is shown in Figure 8-3.

Figure 8-3. Air line filter assembly.

Figure 8-3. Air line filter assembly.