The process of painting a Spitfire into the finished article with all its markings in place, starts long before anybody even thinks of picking up a paint gun.
Getting the detail right
The first stage is research. The aircraft in question may have an interesting history with a particular squadron or pilot, but sometimes there may be debate over some of the small details. When possible, reference is made to original photographs if they still exist. Factory drawings, photographs, archive material and original paint chips are all used to ensure that the research is as comprehensive as possible. Once a scheme has been selected, permission has to be obtained from the Civil Aviation Authority for an exemption to carry military markings. Permission is also sought from the RAF to use theirs. A case has to be made as to why that aircraft should wear that scheme, along with any supporting historical evidence.
Once a Spitfire airframe has been painstakingly reassembled, it will still have an amount of oil or grease on its surface. This is left over from it being worked on, so this must be thoroughly removed with special panel wipe cleaning fluid. The fuselage is then sprayed with primer, to give the top coat a base to adhere to.
Not all areas are meant to be camouflaged. Surfaces behind many panels are silver as well as the interior of the fuselage, so these have to be sprayed first. The cockpit area from frame 5, back to 11 is painted cockpit green. All colours are matched to the authentic BS codes and camouflage patterns to original Air Ministry documents.
After these details are painted, the airframe is carefully masked to prevent any overspray reaching them. Camouflage grey is then applied, allowed to dry, then with reference to original camouflage pattern charts, the green is sprayed on top. Normally there is an A and a B version of the camouflage pattern. One is a mirror of the other. Following this, the airframe can be masked again for roundels, fin flashes and other markings. It takes time to mask perfect circles on a surface that curves in more than one direction, but care taken here pays dividends later.
After the major markings are applied, there are many small stencils for tyre pressures, air and hydraulic fill points and jacking points. Sometimes armament adjustment stencils are required on some marks of Spitfire.
The story continues
That’s how to paint a Spitfire, or in fact any historic warbird aircraft. Paint is far from the end of the story though. Painting is considered a ‘maintenance event’ so is recorded in the relevant log books that stay with the aircraft for life. From here on the long process of systems fitting with miles of pipework begins. Stay tuned!
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