Available Aircraft Fabric Covering Processes

The covering processes that utilize polyester fabric are the primary focus of this section. The FAA-approved aircraft covering processes are listed in Figure. The processes can be distinguished by the chemical nature of the glue and coatings that are used. A dope-based covering process has been refined out of the cotton fabric era, with excellent results on polyester fabric. In particular, plasticizers added to the nitrate dope and butyrate dopes minimize the shrinking and tautening effects of the dope, establish flexibility, and allow esthetically pleasing tinted butyrate dope finishes that last indefinitely. Durable polyurethane-based processes integrate well with durable polyurethane topcoat finishes. Vinyl is the key ingredient in the popular Poly-Fiber covering system. Air Tech uses an acetone thinned polyurethane compatible system.

Aircraft Fabric Covering Processes
Examples of FAA-approved fabric covering processes

The most recent entry into the covering systems market is the Stewart Finishing System that uses waterborne technology to apply polyurethane coatings to the fabric. The glue used in the system is water-based and nonvolatile. The Stewart Finishing System is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compliant and STC approved. Both the Stewart and Air Tech systems operate with any of the approved polyester fabrics as stated in their covering system STCs.

All the modern fabric covering systems listed in Figure result in a polyester fabric covered aircraft with an indefinite service life. Individual preferences exist for working with the different approved processes. A description of basic covering procedures and techniques common to most of these systems follows in Fabric Covering Process post.

Ceconite™, Polyfiber™, and Superflight™ are STC approved fabrics with processes used to install polyester fabric coverings. Two companies that do not manufacturer their own fabric have gained STC approval for covering accessories and procedures to be used with these approved fabrics. The STCs specify the fabrics and the proprietary materials that are required to legally complete the re-covering job.

The aircraft fabric covering process is a three-step process. First, select an approved fabric. Second, follow the applicable STC steps to attach the fabric to the airframe and to protect it from the elements. Third, apply the approved topcoat to give the aircraft its color scheme and final appearance.

Although Grade-A cotton can be used on all aircraft originally certificated to be covered with this material, approved aircraft cotton fabric is no longer available. Additionally, due to the shortcomings of cotton fabric coverings, most of these aircraft have been re-covered with polyester fabric. In the rare instance the technician encounters a cotton fabric covered aircraft that is still airworthy, inspection and repair procedures specified in AC 43.13-1, Chapter 2, Fabric Covering, should be followed.