Covering The Fuselage
AFS Method



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The following is an AFS CecoBond Cement covering job of the fuselage. We will also present a Poly Fiber method covering job in another web page. Please remember, there are usually several ways to complete any job. The following information is just one of these examples.

We have added photos from another build showing a couple of missing areas in the beginning of this stage of covering. However, the covering process photos will be exclusively from our builder using the AFS gluing system.

NOTE: Aircraft Finishing Systems (AFS) is no longer in business. However, the production rights to the former AFS of Montana has been assumed by Stewart Systems of Washington.


Tapping Down Edges

Prior to taping, it is recommended to first use either a plastic mallet or square head "shop hammer" type to tap down any sharp aluminum edges as close to the aluminum tubing as possible. This should be done on "ALL" fuselage side ribs and sheet aluminum edges throughout the fuselage. This will help in the long-term by reducing the chances of the aluminum edges from cutting or wearing through the covering or skin of the plane after the plane is flying.

Taping The Edges

The best tape to use for taping off the gusset edge and rivets is a Dacron First Aid tape, available at WalMart in 1" X 10 yard rolls. The covering is also made of Dacron, so if it ever gets wet, it will not mildew or decompose. For all the edge and rivet taping throughout the plane, you will need to buy anywhere from 5 to 20 rolls, depending on how many layers of tape you use. Only one layer is needed to protect the fabric from sharp edges. However, for a more professional look in hiding edges and rivet heads under the fabric, you may wish to use up to three layers.

Aircraft Spruce also sells a similar tape. A roll of 1" X 60 yards sells for $7.30 and may actually be the better deal, price wise.
(Pricing as of 10/2006)

Some builders have successfully used sports grip tape, like that used as a grip aid on bat and hockey stick handles, while some others have used just plain masking tape for the taping of edges. However, masking tape wears very quickly and would not be the best choice for this job.

Any of the above mentioned tapes seem to do the job of stopping the fabric from abrading on the rivets and sharp edges and eventually wearing through the fabric.

         
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The picture to the left shows three layers of Dacron tape applied over rivets and the fuselage's sharp edges of its structure. This should result in a very good looking finished painted fabric surface.

Adding Quilt Batting To Aluminum Sheeting & Longerons

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Although not required, adding a quilt batting to all aluminum sheeting surfaces will keep the fabric from unevenly sticking permanently to the aluminum when painting. Adding quilt batting along the longerons will also help the fabric smooth out when shrinking and improve the final look. This also gives a much smoother surface and look to the fabric after painting. A standard quilt batting and double sided Scotch Tape was used for this purpose. Both products are available at WalMart and many other stores.

         
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Masking For Straight Glue Edge

When getting ready to apply your glue, it is best to use an inexpensive masking tape to create a "straight" glue edge along the surface of the tubing. This will not be needed where you will be gluing and wrapping the fabric "around" the inside of the tubing surface. This will improve the final look of all glues seams.

Before applying the glue edge tape, be sure to completely clean all aluminum parts and tubing to be glued with MEK.

See MEK Warning Information before using.


What Glue To Use

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There are two primary types of gluing systems, Poly Fiber's and AFS. Our builder will be using the AFS bonding system, using CecoBond Cement, and an AFS Heavy Duty Cleaner.

         
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Covering The Bottom

Our builder used the method of covering the fuselage while sitting on its wheels. This is not the easiest way to cover the fuselage, but it works.


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First, tack your fabric with glue to the bottom framework of the fuselage, then cut off excess fabric. Leave some fabric overage for final trimming when you are ready to do your final gluing.

         
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The CecoBond glue used with the AFS bonding system should be applied with the temps between 65F and 95F. Let the cement tack up for about 5 minutes then apply the fabric to that cemented area. Brush glue down thru the fabric to that cemented area and wipe away any excess glue with a damp paper towel while, at the same time, smoothing the fabric down. Don't use a wet towel as that will wick the glue from the fabric.


The cemented area should show an even color indicating a complete bond between the fabric and the metal. Drying time can be up to four hours depending on the temperature and the humidity.

Now, repeat this process for securing the fabric to the nose cone by at least 2 inches.


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Shrinking The Fabric

Cooking Thermometer
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Start with a household iron set at about 225F to 250F or 107C to 121C. Most builders will use either a $10.00 cooking thermometer or the far more accurate $70.00 Raytek Minitemp MT4 laser, infrared thermometer, available at www.infrared-usa.com.
Pricing as of October 2006

         
Raytek Minitemp MT4
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After allowing your glued material to set and harden for a while, you will need to shrink the bottom wing fabric before proceeding.

Using a household iron and either a candy thermometer or laser temperature gun, adjust your iron to about 250F and shrink the material slowly until it is taut. You can go ahead and do the final 350F degree shrinking as this section does not depend on shrinking any other area of the fuselage.

         
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Covering The First Side

For the first side, you will need to apply the glue edge masking tape to the aluminum tubing just above the fabric contact point and around the tubing.

However, applying the glue to the bottom fabric edge will be a little different. Apply your glue edge masking tape about 1-1/2 inches from the bottom aluminum framework onto the bottom fabric as you will be gluing the side fabric directly to the bottom fabric.

Use a small paint brush to apply your glue. Again, you will need to apply a single coat of the glue between the masking tape glue line and the bottom frame cage. Let the cement tack up for about 5 minutes before you apply the fabric to that cemented area. Now, remove the masking tape by folding the tape back onto itself and slowly pull the tape off.

Before securing the fabric to the fuselage with tape, you will first need to remove the main gear leg on the side you will be covering as you will need to cut the gear leg weldment hole in the fabric. Remember, the weldment is at an angle downward, so you will have to compensate for this when measuring off for the weldment hole in the fabric. If you get the hole too low, you may not have enough fabric to reach the bottom cage work for gluing.


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Slip the fabric over the main gear weldment and tape or weight the fabric to draw the fabric across the covering area so the fabric is as smooth as possible. When tacking down the first edge of the fabric, you need to keep the fabric as straight as possible without applying any twist to the fabric as you will have several contours in which to glue the fabric to. There are several methods of doing this, one is to start at the rear of the fuselage and slowly work forward. Another is working from the top and work down and back.

         
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As the weldment hole is a non-movable area, tack the material down to the bottom first, closest to the weldment hole. This will allow you to even out the fabric over the frame and tack the fabric along the critical areas and bends. Be careful as this can get a bit tricky.


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You will need to trim off some of the excess fabric in the area of the door opening. Be careful not to trim off too much. You will first need to tack down the fabric along the down tubes at the rear door opening and engine firewall areas. Next, smooth out the fabric and tack down about a 1-1/2 foot section below the gear weldment at the bottom cage.

You can now tack down the area on the side rails and front bottom cage framework.

         
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As you work towards the rear of the fuselage, first tack the material on the bottom of the engine firewall area, then the bottom edge by about the same distance as the firewall area. The trickiest area is the down and 45 degree angle behind the engine area to the tail section. This area will take a lot of fitting, trimming and smoothing to get a good fit to tack the fabric to. This now leaves the tail of the fuselage. Work in about 1-1/2 foot sections, tacking to the top aluminum tubing and the bottom longeron. Work your way all the way to the rear of the fuselage's tail.


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Once you have finished gluing the side fabric and the glue has fully cured, you will need to do the first shrinking of the fabric.

Set your iron at 250F to take out all the loose wrinkles and bring it all slightly taut. You will not want to do the final shrinking to 350F until you have the "front site" glued in place.

         
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Covering The Front Side

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Again, tape the fabric to the fuselage as flat and smooth as possible. Start by tacking the top side rail fabric down, then pull gently, and tack down the bottom cage section, trimming off any excess fabric as you go.

Now you will want to pull gently and tack down the fabric to the nose cone. Then do the same to the seam area towards the back. Trim off the excess fabric when tacking down each section.

         
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Final Gluing

This is a good time to finish the final gluing of the fabric. The cemented area should show an even color indicating a complete bond between the fabric and the metal. Drying time can be up to four hours depending on the temperature and the humidity.


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In some cases, you may wish to apply a reinforcing patch around the main gear weldment.

Now, repeat these steps for covering the other side of the fuselage.

         
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After completing the covering of your fuselage, you will now want to do the final ironing to both sides at 350F and you are done. It's now time to start considering how you plan on painting your covered fuselage, but that will come later in another web page.