by Airman 1st Class Michael Washburn
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
4/5/2012 - DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Stepping into the paint barn on D-M feels like being on the set of the movie "E.T." or "Outbreak." Airmen are dressed up in white hazardous material suits like the actors in those films, except they're not looking for a candy-munching life form or trying to stop a deadly disease from spreading.
The Airmen are trying to stop the disastrous spread of rust and corrosion on the equipment the men and women of D-M use every day. They accomplish their mission by sanding, priming and painting. One of the larger projects that takes a considerable amount of time, are the aircraft D-M is known for, the A-10C Thunderbolt II.
"Painting an A-10 takes two weeks," said Airman 1st Class Jonathan Hart, 355th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance. "One week to sand everything and one to paint. The whole reason why we paint the planes is to protect them from corrosion. We also want to have presentable planes. We don't want nasty looking planes flying around."
With all the A-10s on D-M, plus all the other equipment coming in for a fresh coat of paint, there's never a lack of work to do. It's a constant rotation of incoming aircraft.
"We do a full paint job on a plane once a month," Hart said. "We'll sand it down and mask it off with tape. We always start a plane with the landing gear because it's a different color. After that, we can cover that up, tape off the other areas of the plane and finish off with grey paint."
With a job of such magnitude, a group of Airmen often help with the daunting task.
"There are usually multiple people working on a plane," Hart said. "One person will work on one wing tip while someone works on the other. At the same time, an Airman is working on the front of the plane and another is at the back of it. We'll sand toward the center, finish up and check our work over for any spots we missed."
These aircraft are multimillion dollar machines. To get the most out of them, they need to be properly maintained. The process of adding paint to the aircraft ensures they have a long life-span.
"If we didn't paint these planes, corrosion would set in," Hart said. "They would rust up and the metal would begin to get eaten away. We use primer to stop that from happening. After the primer, we can then paint the planes to make them look presentable for D-M."
Although the process of painting an A-10 may be a long endeavor, for Airman Hart, seeing the finished product makes it all worthwhile.
"After that two-week process of repainting a plane and you get to see it when it's finished, it's a good feeling," Hart said. "You want people to look at it and say 'that's a nice looking plane.'"