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FRCE Streamlining Aircraft Painting Processes

TUESDAY, JULY 9, 2024


The implementation of a laser projection system is expected to improve aircraft painting processes at the Fleet Readiness Center East in North Carolina for U.S. Navy, Naval Air Systems Command and other fleet applications.

The Fleet Support Team’s Materials and Processes Branch and Digital Data Center are reportedly working together to improve the final finish process within the depot’s Aircraft Paint Shop. The system acts as a guide for the precise placement of markings and insignia by projecting their outlines onto the aircraft.

According to Steven Lofy, Senior Materials Engineer for the Materials Branch’s Corrosion and Wear Team, the system has “bolstered” the depot’s capabilities by decreasing turnaround time and labor hours, while producing a reliable and repeatable aircraft paint process and offering safety benefits.

“It takes an extensive amount of time and labor to mask aircraft for the application of major markings and insignia during the final finish process,” said Lofy. “It’s a demanding process based on old, paper drawings that can be difficult to read, making it challenging for our artisans to mask the exact areas on each aircraft consistently.

“The laser projection system makes the process much more precise and reliable when masking and applying stencils to an aircraft, while also saving a significant amount of time. With the laser projection system, we can simply come in, turn on the projectors and actually project where each marking should be on the aircraft. All we have to do from there is line each stencil up, mask and paint.”

Photos: Naval Air Systems Command
The implementation of a laser projection system is expected to improve aircraft painting processes at the Fleet Readiness Center East in North Carolina for U.S. Navy, Naval Air Systems Command and other fleet applications.
Photos: Naval Air Systems Command

The implementation of a laser projection system is expected to improve aircraft painting processes at the Fleet Readiness Center East in North Carolina for U.S. Navy, Naval Air Systems Command and other fleet applications.

The FRCE Aircraft Clean and Paint Shop reportedly primes and paints the aircraft that pass through the aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul facility. Masking is considered a tedious process as tape, film and paper are applied to aircraft to outline areas to be painted and protect other areas from paint overspray.

The center adds that precision and attention to detail are essential, especially when masking aircraft markings that cannot be stenciled.

FRCE successfully tested the laser projection system for the first time to paint the white stripes onto an HMX-1 V-22 in January. According to Lofy, using the laser projection system on that aircraft reduced the labor hours required to mask the stripes in preparation for paint by over 85%.

“The HMX-1 V-22 is one of our more difficult aircraft to paint because of the two horizontal white stripes that go down its entire body,” said Lofy. “Taping off the stripes in preparation for paint used to take us about 16 labor hours.

“Artisans were having to do their best to tape off straight lines across the entire aircraft by hand, which is very difficult to do on a flat surface, let alone on the bumpy, curved surface of an aircraft. Whereas now, with the laser projection system, we can tape off the stripes in approximately two hours, and they are guaranteed to be perfectly straight and accurately placed every time.”

In addition to reducing turnaround time, the laser projection system also creates a reliable and repeatable process for painting

In addition to reducing turnaround time, the laser projection system also creates a reliable and repeatable process for painting aircraft. Lofy said this is especially important when painting high visibility aircraft such as the HMX-1 V-22 and the UH-1N Huey.

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These aircraft are painted for appearance, he explained, unlike other aircraft which are painted for form, fit and function.

Additionally, the laser projection system will also allow for a safer work environment.

“To mask and stencil these aircraft, artisans have to climb up and down stairs or onto the side of the aircraft multiple times to try to get those two perfectly straight lines along both sides of the aircraft,” said Lofy. “The laser projection system removes all of the back and forth by projecting the perfectly straight lines across the aircraft for the artisans to use as guide.”

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Materials and Processes Branch Head Christopher Gladson said the laser projection system also cuts costs due to the time it saves during the final finish process.

“For the HMX-1 V-22 stripes alone, we save about 14 hours by using the laser projection system, and that’s only for one of the major markings we are using the system for,” said Gladson. “We plan to project between 10 and 53 markings across the aircraft we service. Just think about the additional time we will save by using this system for 53 markings. That’s a lot of time and money we can save.”

Matthew Mullins, a Production Support Engineer at the depot’s Digital Data Center, said FRCE is already working to explain the system’s capabilities. The center reportedly obtains 3D renderings of the various aircraft FRCE services and uploads them into the projection system’s software. Afterwards, engineers are able to transfer the 2D stencils and drawings of these aircraft markings into the 3D software.

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“To date, the depot has successfully tested the system on four of the aircraft serviced by the depot. First was the HMX-1 V-22 and UH-1N, and then we tested the system on the MH-53E, MV-22. Once we test it and tweak it so everything lines up perfectly, it’s ready to use,” said Mullins.

“The system is very user friendly. The paint shop will simply roll the projectors out and pick which aircraft file they’d like to project. It’s that simple.”

“After seeing how helpful the system was with the stripes on the HMX-1 V-22, I am eager to see what else it can do,” said Aircraft Paint Shop Supervisor Ronald Gray.

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“The shop’s artisans spend a lot of time and energy to make sure each marking is painted in the right place, so this will help us not only become more accurate with placement, but also save their energy. Hopefully, we can make the most out of the time and energy the system will save us by completing more aircraft than ever before.” 

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Tagged categories: Aesthetics; aircraft; Aviation; Coatings; Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); Paint; Paint application; Paint application equipment; Stenciling; U.S. Navy


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