Re-covering a Piper Cub
The following was posted as a letter on the Piper Cub Builders email list, in answer to a question from a rebuilder in Europe. The author is John Scott.
Mattias (and all the rest of you),
I've thought for a week or more now about your questions thrown to the masses about re-covering your plane (I think you've said it is actually an L-18C). I've read all the responses (so far) from members of the group, and while many of them gave good information, they didn't seem to answer all of your questions.
Let me begin by saying that (in my opinion) re-covering a plane is NOT HARD. It may be time consuming, but even an idiot like me found that I could do it (and have trophy winning results) the first time around. The one thing I WILL say is that if it takes this much (----- ---------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------) effort to cover the plane, it takes this much (.) more to do it RIGHT!
You indicated that your plane has not been "unclothed" since 1965. That's a LONG time (36 years!) for a plane with "Grade A" to last (and be airworthy). The people that last covered your plane must have been done a very good job, and you and its' previous owners must have taken very good care of it. Good for you!! If you are going to do the job again shouldn't you do an equally good job (one that will last for another 36 or more years)?!?
What I'm getting around to is that the act of putting new fabric on your plane (though needed) is only part of what you will have to expect to do. You will have to thoroughly go over the structure under the fabric and make sure it is up to being covered over again. It's been 36 years since your planes' structure has been inspected and defects corrected. It used to be that most planes (like Cubs) were recovered about every five years. That's just how long the fabric lasted when the planes were left tied down outside (GASP!), so the structure of various parts was checked and repaired or "overhauled" on a fairly timely basis.
What will you find when you get the fabric off the different components? Any broken ribs needing repair? Rotten wing tip bows? Any surface corrosion on the spars from mouse nests that need removal? Rusted, deteriorated or broken steel tubing in the fuselage or tail surfaces? A fuel tank that has been chaffing and needs to be repaired? Electrical wiring whose insulation is disintegrating? The potential list goes on and on. It will be up to you (and the inspectors that sign the paperwork) to ensure that the structure UNDER the fabric lasts as long as the fabric!
I AM NOT TRYING TO SCARE YOU AWAY FROM THIS UNDERTAKING!!!! It's just that, from experience, I'm trying to throw in a dose of reality. The way you said it in your original e-mail sounded kind of like "Ho, hum. I'll just do this nothing job of recovering my plane over the next three winters and then I'll have a good as new plane to fly for many years to come.". Please, I'm NOT picking at you. That's just the way I read it! You are capable of taking on this whole project and ending up with a plane that WILL last for years to come. Just be aware of what you are potentially getting into!
I will now get down from my "soap box".
You indicated that you were looking into fabric envelopes to cover your plane. WHY?? I guess I can partly understand as I fell for the same trap when I started rebuilding my Cub. PLEASE TAKE MY ADVICE: envelopes offer very little in the way of conveniences and come equipped with their own set of problems.
When I started I asked a number of people "What is the best place to order fabric envelopes from?" And I then ordered from "the best". While I had visions of "glove like" tight fitting coverings, what I got was baggy, poorly fitting, poorly sewn (half unsown so that it COULD go over the structure) with multiple UGLY seams!! I heart wrenchingly sent it back and got plain flat stock fabric to do the covering. It was a GOOD decision.
Think about this: 3 pieces of fabric to cover the fuselage, 2 pieces to cover each wing and various small pieces (ALMOST scraps from the other covering) to cover the control surfaces and landing gear. If you've ever covered a balsa and tissue model, you know the basics of putting fabric on your Cub.
You also had mentioned trying to decide what "weight" fabric to use. This way you can "mix and match". Heavy fabric on the belly and undersides of the tail and normal on the rest. Unless you're flying out of gravel strips though, I really don't think you need to do this!
Now on to paint. What type of finish do you think you'll use? Dope? Stitts (now Polyfiber)? Or something else? Each has its merits. Please keep in mind ONE thing about the color finish. A "polyurethane" paint (like Imron) will ultimately cure BRITTLE and crack on the fabric. I think Randolph, Polyfiber and a company called Airtech each have a "reformulated" polyurethane that WILL work on fabric.
As far as your color choice - that's personal to you. (I'm getting back up on my soap box.) You COULD paint it pink with purple stripes because IT'S YOURS. But since you asked_ You've said that your plane was an L-18C. That means it's NOT a J-3 or a PA-18. It's a military plane, paint it as such! There are numerous paint schemes you could choose from. As crazy as it might seem, a "warbird" is worth more than its civilian counterpart. Remember that a Cub is no longer a cheap airplane, but an L-4 demands a premium in price! I personally shake my head when I see a warbird in "civilian" clothes, not because I'm a military nut, but because the owner has chosen to throw away money in the resale value of his plane!
One final thing. There is a magazine published in the U.S. called Custom Planes. They have for many months been running a series of "How to" articles by Ron Alexander on fabric covering. Great articles. They have also started several months ago a series of articles by Ron Caraway about rebuilding a J-3 Cub that he bought out of a barn. So far they have been good articles too! If you can't find the magazine where you live you can contact them on the web at www.customplanes.com.
Good luck with your future project!
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