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February 21, 2020

Rust protection is an important consideration you should make at the start of any homebuilt aircraft project to protect the aircraft parts and enhance the life of your plane.

Steel and aluminum are subject to corrosion. This guide offers some useful tips for protecting your homebuilt aircraft parts from rust.

People who purchase ready to assemble aircraft kits are of the view that the new components may be set up right away. They tend to skip rust protection assuming that it is only meant for older planes.

Rust protection of your new aircraft begins at the time the new plane is being assembled. The small steps you take keep the parts running longer and ultimately lead to a safer flying experience.

The steel components that come in the project kit require adequate protection from corrosion. If the necessary steps aren’t taken, the moisture in the atmosphere may cause the steel to oxidize.

The greater the humidity, the sooner the unprotected parts begin to rust.

Rusting may appear as small freckle-like red spots on the bare metal or the entire surface may adopt a slightly reddish tint that worsens with time.

Over time, the parts worst hit by corrosion tend to develop pits in the metal.

The steel parts that come in the kit have already been welded, heat-treated and subjected to other processes. They are often marketed as ‘ready to install’ components.

What these parts may not have is adequate rust protection. At best, you will find components that have been oiled. However, they usually haven’t been primed or painted.

Prepare the parts for storage

Before starting your aircraft building project, it is advised to separate the steel components and prepare them for storage. It’s quite likely you won’t be needing them for the next 8-12 months, so there’s no point in letting potential rust build up.

If you live in dry parts of Canada, you will not be as affected by rust. But if you live near the Pacific or Atlantic coasts, you should consider the following options, recommended by the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), an international organization of aviation enthusiasts:

  • These small steps can offer temporary protection for up to 2 years to the parts;
    • Oil or grease the smaller parts and seal them in plastic bags
    • Oil/grease larger components like engine mount and landing gear, and wrap them using plastic sheets.
    • As plastic is see-through, you can inspect the parts from time to time to ensure they aren’t corroding.
  • Permanently protect your parts by cleaning, priming and coating them. Since this step has to be done prior to parts assembly, why not do it right away for optimal protection, right?

Clean the parts before assembly

It is important to clean aircraft parts before use. Make sure that the parts are free of:

  • Oil/grease residue
  • Old surface coating
  • Surface rust
  • Welding scale

Cleaning techniques

Several cleaning methods are recommended, including:

  • Electrolytic cleaning
  • Vapor-degreasing
  • Pickling

Cleaning Tips

The exact technique you use depends on the metal condition and the nature of matter to remove from its surface.

The following tips will help you:

Cleaning steel components in good condition

a. Clean foreign matter like grease and oil by applying an organic solvent like benzoyl or naphtha on the parts using a ‘Scotch-Brite’ pad.

b. Rinse the parts again in unused solvent and then wipe dry.

Cleaning slightly rusted steel parts

A variety of options are available for removing loose scale and cleaning slightly rusted parts, including sandpaper, stainless steel wool, wire brushes and abrasive discs.

a. Rinse the part in the organic solvent and then wipe dry.

b. Sandblast the parts to prepare them for priming and coating.

c. Apply a commercial steel cleaner, such as Rust Remover or Osphos for chemically cleaning slightly rusted surfaces.

Some of these cleaners form a layer between the paint and the metal, preventing the surface from further corrosion.

Protecting steel parts using primer

Prevent further oxidation of your steel components using a primer. Epoxy primer and red oxide primer are some options you can consider. These primers are effective because they resist most chemicals and prevent rust buildup.

When using commercial products, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Acorn Welding has grown to become Canada’s largest aircraft exhaust and engine mount manufacturer and supplier. Acorn is also the largest radial and vintage aircraft exhaust company in the world. Acorn Welding has successfully performed more than 30,000 repairs to different aircraft parts. Acorn has also manufactured more than 200,000 aviation components. Contact Acorn Welding today for all your aircraft needs.