AOPA's Catch-A-Cardinal Sweepstakes - Project Update: Off With the Mask

November 11, 2009

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April 12
Off With the Mask

The Cardinal's paint scheme debuts

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It's not hyperbole, really, when someone tells you that 99 percent of the paint application labor and heartache is in the preparation. That's true in the final stage as well. In fact, you must mask off the airplane (using paper and special masking tape) before a drop of color is shot - and the masking process can take days while the paint application only takes a few hours.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we watched a Learjet 35 take off from Griffin-Spaulding County Airport (where your 2007 AOPA sweepstakes airplane, a 1977 Cessna 177B Cardinal, is being refurbished). The Lear had just finished a quick turn through Advanced Aircraft Refinishers, our paint contractors on the sweeps project, for an N-number change and some touch-up work - all completed ahead of schedule and with great attention to detail. It was an exciting takeoff as we lined pickup trucks along the ramp and watched the Lear rocket off the ground, in max-performance takeoff mode, just past the midway point on the 3,800-ft runway.

After that very short Griffin airshow, we drove back to the hangars...it was time for the Cardinal's turn through the final paint stage.

Our gorgeous "counterweight"
Before we could start shooting the trim color, we had to complete much of the major reassembly of the airplane - the vertical stabilizer, stabilator, and fairings became the focus of the team's attention, since the tail feathers had to be together in order to accept the cardinal design that graces them.

Of course, when parts started going back on the tail, their combined weight immediately became apparent - an aircraft fuselage balances only with most of its major components attached. You can't put weight on the tail without putting weight on the front - and we'd removed the run-out engine back in November at the beginning of the refurbishment. Luckily, we had just the right "counterweight" to balance our pretty white tail: a factory-fresh overhauled Lycoming O-360-A1F6 engine, generously donated to the project by the folks at Lycoming Engines.

Jeff Swords, of Don's Dream Machines has been taking care of our engine since it arrived back in late January. Originally we thought we'd hang the engine in February, but we rearranged the schedule to accommodate the incredible electrical system upgrades and avionics installation by Sarasota Avionics.

So Danny Rexroad of Classic Aircraft Maintenance and the technicians from Air Wrench finished building up the firewall, riveting back into place newly painted brackets and mounts in preparation for the trusty new Lyc. I can't wait to fly behind it, a zero-time version of the piston-aviation world's most bulletproof engines.

The airframe's tube-steel mount went on first - a thing of beauty after its careful overhaul and inspection by Kosola & Associates of Albany, Georgia. Back in January, project manager Dan Gryder flew the original mount down to Albany for respected engineer Harold Kosola and his shop to take a look at. After doing a dye-penetrant test on the mount and rehabilitating it, Kosola painted the mount a brilliant white - one of our tactics to keep the engine compartment bright, and easy to inspect and work in.

The rehabbed mount came back to us about four weeks later, as good as new, and looking even better. Swords placed the mount back on the firewall, and Tom Holt, of Freeman's Just Plane Hardware helped him steer the hearty O-360 into place. Roughly 270 pounds (dry weight) later, the Cardinal once more stood on its own gear, unassisted.

Now, we could focus back on paint.

You're going to do what?
Yes, after all the attention paid to making the base coat (three coats, actually) so pretty and shiny, we would need to take a Scotch Brite pad to it.

What's that travesty, you say? Well, the base paint needs a bit of scuffing to make a rough surface that's easier for the trim paint to adhere to. Sad, but necessary.

After that, masking is applied (white butcher paper and painter's masking tape) in layers to follow the order of the colors as they are shot. For this process, we called in some experts to help us get the scheme just right.

Craig Barnett, of Scheme Designers has designed many gorgeous paint schemes for AOPA sweepstakes aircraft through the years. You can also see Barnett's designs on several new aircraft, through his aircraft manufacturer clients. Whether with a corporate or private customer, Barnett works closely with the client through many iterations of possible paint schemes using an interactive online process, so that the design is just right.

We chose the most striking of Barnett's schemes for this year's airplane, letter "A" on the list, if you voted. With a cardinal on the tail taken from the original Cardinal logo, N778RD will have a bold ramp presence befitting its rejuvenated airframe, engine, panel, and interior.

And about that N number. If you've followed our sweepstakes projects over the years, you'll know that we always try to come up with something clever to tie the registration number to the sweeps theme (some might be arguably more clever than others). So in case it's not evident, the 77 is for the 1977 Model 177. The 8RD, well, doesn't that sort of look like "Bird" - as in Cardinal? Work with us here, it was a tough assignment - thanks to a dedicated cadre of Cardinal owners who have nearly the entire run of "177" N numbers assigned!

Meanwhile, back at the paint booth, because "team" is a theme this year, we encouraged Barnett to come down during the paint process to help shepherd his design along. We also brought in help from another corner: Paul Howes, from Moody Aero-Graphics.

Moody has provided placards, decals, and logos to the sweepstakes projects in past years, and we took him up on his offer to assist with the Cardinal project in a new way. Howes created a masking system for the airplane, to use as the multi-colored paint scheme was applied. Special areas in the masking include the N-numbers (which are gold with a white outline and a black drop shadow) and the cardinal (which uses red, black, and gold to create the bird).

Howes and Barnett joined Tony Dias, owner of AAR, to lay down the first of the masking on the sparkling white fuselage during one marathon-long Friday. At many times, all six hands were on the airplane as they worked together to try out new ideas and achieve the best results.

Time to shoot
Once all the masking was on properly, the paint team had worked carefully through the order in which the colors would be shot, and how the masking would be removed and adjusted in the process.

The Alumigrip red went on first, covering the hull of the airplane from stem to stern, and the top of the vertical stabilizer.

The paint team first applied a special coat of red paint on top of the white to correct any "whitening" of the red from the white base coat. Then, three additional coats of red went on over the course of an evening. The crew left the red, shiny as Saturday-night lipstick, to dry overnight.

The next day, the gold metallic and, finally, the black were shot. Although it appears as though the gold stripes lay on top of the red, this is an illusion - the masking separates the colors so they just touch but don't overlap.

The result? You can take a peek at the pictures posted in the photo gallery...but better yet, come see the airplane in person! We'll have it on display all next week in Lakeland, Florida, at the Sun 'n Fun Fly-In.

Come see us!
The aircraft display will be unlike past sweepstakes displays: We're leaving the interior completely out - including the seats, carpet, interior plastic, and floorboards - so you can see the heart of the Cardinal, including the spiffy new avionics panel and that ready-to-run Lycoming. From the hefty spar to the new wiring from tip to tail, the airplane will be wide open for your viewing pleasure.

The show opens on April 17 and closes on the 23; find a day to bring family or friends down and see your Cardinal, which is now truly a beauty on the outside, as well as the inside.

- Julie K. Boatman

E-mail the author at julie.boatman@aopa.org.

   Moody Aero Graphics
FEATURED CONTRIBUTOR
Moody Aero-Graphics
In 1988, a change to require 12-inch N-numbers on most civil aircraft spurred an Ocala, Florida-based graphics company to enter the general aviation marketplace. Paul Howes, owner of Moody Aero-Graphics, already flew his Cessna 182 on business and a Grumman Cheetah for fun - and, as he guessed, the possibilities for high-end graphics on aircraft would only grow larger in the next 20 years.

Moody offers striping kits, custom photographic images, interior and exterior placards, and paint masking, such as that which we used to outline the paint scheme for the Catch-A-Cardinal. "One day we're going to wrap an airplane completely in graphics," says Howes. Call 352/347-3330 or visit the Web site.