Getting an aircraft repainted can be one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking experiences an aircraft owner can go through during a refurbishment—even more so if the aircraft owner doesn’t know what the aircraft will look like until it’s finished.
That’s exactly what happened to aircraft owner and AOPA member Liam Hawkins. Hawkins, a Florida native, recently purchased his 1967 Mooney M20F, and although the engine and propeller were just 35 hours from their major overhaul, the 56-year-old aircraft was in dire need of paint, a new panel, and interior.
The refurbishment began with new wiring, and a custom cut panel featuring a suite of Garmin avionics. After that, custom upholstered seats were installed as well as the addition of a LASAR Inc. speed modification kit, and Power Flow Systems exhaust. All that was left to do was paint.
“I didn’t imagine doing everything on the plane the first year, but it just kept this momentum to it. I wanted to keep it going,” Hawkins said. That’s when he reached out to Kress about getting the paint project started.
Kress’s artwork often features portraits, and swirling and geometric designs. “I told him [Kress] I wanted to go with a colorful geometric design and to do whatever he thought would look good. Just go for it!” the (brave) Mooney owner said.
Kress, an experienced Tampa Bay artist who specializes in large-scale murals and canvas artwork, had never painted an aircraft before, but excitedly agreed—with one caveat: Hawkins would not be allowed to see the design or the aircraft until the project was complete.
One of the first challenges the duo faced was finding a paint shop that was willing to work with Kress and allow him to step in on the color process. After several calls and rejections, Hawkins finally found Ace Aircraft Refinishing, a paint shop in Bartow, Florida, that was excited to work with the pair on their creative venture. Kress and the team at Ace spent a large portion of time performing paint tests to be sure their color processes would work together, with the end goal of a flawless, long-lasting paint job. Now that the aircraft is painted, Ace is also guaranteeing and insuring the work.
On the planning side, Kress explained that he’s always been a fan of unique geometric and colorful designs and decided he would incorporate 40 different colors into the Mooney’s paint scheme. Without much of a plan, he started to put the Mooney’s design together piece by piece.
Painting an aircraft for the first time comes with its own unique set of challenges, even more notably when most of your painting experience has been on flat surfaces. Unlike Kress’s usual canvases, aircraft have angles, curves, and rivets to negotiate. He had to essentially teach himself how to work on this three-dimensional surface, and this included getting on the ground to paint the belly of the aircraft. “It took a lot of time to get it, but was fun,” Kress said.
The entire painting project from start to finish took around eight weeks, which included surface preparation, three weeks of painting by Kress, and the clear coat. The final product is eye-catching to say the least, and the asymmetrical design means every surface of the aircraft features different colors and shapes, so no two parts are alike.
Kress, who already has a book of ideas, hopes to do more aircraft painting projects in the future and says that Ace has invited him back anytime to team up on future projects—and that Ace will continue to stand behind the work.
“It was such a great experience,” Kress said. “I love doing murals because it makes people stop, look, imagine, and feel like a kid again, and that’s something that’s been a driving force for me. The airplane does the same thing for people; they see it and they dream and wonder a little bit. Getting to see it move through the sky, I think it’s going to be something special.”
When it came time for the big reveal, Hawkins said it was an emotional experience:
“I was instantly impressed and delighted from the first second. I immediately ran toward the airplane. I was so thrown, I almost cried, I love it.”
For those hoping to catch a glimpse of the aircraft nicknamed the Mooney “Anomaly,” Hawkins and Kress plan to bring the aircraft to several airshows this year, the first being the Sun ’n Fun Aerospace Expo in Lakeland, Florida, in March.