Sioux City, IOWA --
This week, the painters from the Air National Guard Paint Facility in Sioux City, Iowa rolled out the first of six F-16s from the Royal Netherlands Air Force that will be receiving a new paint job. This job marks the first opportunity the western Iowa based paint facility has had to service international aircraft.
Lt. Col. Maurice Schomk, the commander of the Dutch attachment at the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, Ariz., met with members from the paint facility Tuesday, February 7th, to complete the final inspection of the aircraft. He was quite pleased with the results. "I am impressed. I know what the jet looked like before, and I saw all the faces of the people who first inspected the jet. I knew it would be a challenge."
He added, "My first impression walking in here is that I am standing here looking at a new jet."
When Lt. Col. Schomk first took over the Dutch attachment, he said their jets' outside appearance did not match the avionics inside. "One of my first priorities was to get our jets painted. When we heard about the quality and value the people in Sioux City could provide, we decided to send our jets here."
Currently, the Royal Netherlands Air Force is only planning to paint six of their ten aircraft. But, Lt. Col Schomk hopes to complete all of them within the next few years.
Dave Miller, the facility manager of the paint facility and Command Chief of the 185th Air Refueling Wing in Sioux City, said this job symbolizes the international partnership between the U.S. and its allies. "This really saves the Netherlands a lot of money. Instead of sending the jets out to get completely stripped and painted, our methods cost about a third of the price and takes half the time."
Miller added that this job gives the members of the paint facility another opportunity to show the Air Force and its allies the type of work they are able to accomplish. "We have proven quality, proven expertise, and these guys go into great detail and great lengths to put out a perfect product."
The Air National Guard Paint Facility is located on the 185th Air Refueling Wing's (ARW) airbase. It was established in 2000 to serve the Air National Guard's painting needs. Since it first opened its hangar doors, the facility has serviced over 500 aircraft including F-16s, A-10s, and F-15s. It typically services about 40-50 aircraft per year.
While the paint facility employees were quite familiar with painting F-16s, the Dutch aircraft presented some unique challenges. "Probably the most difficult part of this process was sorting out the new paint schemes and figuring out where the stencils go," said James Seiler, a sheet metal mechanic for the facility.
The U.S. F-16 features a two-tone grey body with black markings. The Dutch F-16, on the other hand, features a three-tone grey with seven different colors for markings. The Dutch jets also have several more markings that its U.S. jets, including a bright red, white, blue, and orange Dutch emblem located near the exhaust and on the wings.
Seiler said the biggest challenge for the job was gathering the data to make sure everything was done accurately. "We had the people from Tucson send us the technical manuals so we were absolutely sure we had everything in its right place. We spent several days before the jet even came in sorting through the tech data and planning how we could do this job in the most effective and efficient way."
Miller said he was pleased with the performance of the facilities members and he looks forward to working with the Dutch and any other international communities that are interested in their services. "
While "painting" does make the aircraft look more attractive, the paint serves a much more important function. One of the major enemies to the structure of aircraft is weather and corrosion. Miller said, "Today's fighter aircraft are exposed to diverse environments. In one week, they are flying through rain and snow, the next week they could be flying over deserts. That is why it is critical to make sure the paint on these jets properly protect the aircraft."
The paint facility uses a cost effective method called "Scuff, Sand, and Paint." To start this two-week project, the painters carefully inspect the aircraft, looking for critical areas where corrosion could possibly develop. Next, they scrape and sand these critical areas and prepare them for the painting. They also tape and cover areas on the aircraft that could be damaged throughout the painting process. The painters then paint the areas with an anti-corrosive paint which, ironically, is made by the Dutch company AkzoNobel. Finally, the painters stencil in the appropriate markings around the jet and conduct final operational checkouts and inspections before sending it back to the unit.
Compared to a "strip and paint," where painters strip down the entire jet and provide a completely new layer of paint, the "Scuff, Sand, and Paint" is a much more economical option.