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Picture-perfect painting

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Painter Don Watkins puts the first coat on a KC-135 Stratotanker engine cowling here.  One coat of primer and two coats of paint add 420 to 500 pounds to the aircraft.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Painter Don Watkins puts the first coat on a KC-135 Stratotanker engine cowling here. One coat of primer and two coats of paint add 420 to 500 pounds to the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- After "USAF" is painted under a KC-135 Stratotanker's wing, Gerald Spurgion removes the paper and tape mask.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- After "USAF" is painted under a KC-135 Stratotanker's wing, Gerald Spurgion removes the paper and tape mask. (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Kenneth Kilgore paints stenciling on a KC-135 Stratotanker emergency exit door.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Kenneth Kilgore paints stenciling on a KC-135 Stratotanker emergency exit door. (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Workers here put the first coat of paint on a KC-135 Stratotanker.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Workers here put the first coat of paint on a KC-135 Stratotanker. (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Painter Steve Hamilton finishes stenciling on a KC-135 Stratotanker boom.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Painter Steve Hamilton finishes stenciling on a KC-135 Stratotanker boom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. (AFPN) -- Aircraft leaving the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center here make one final stop to complete the cycle of programmed depot maintenance.

That stop is the paint hangar. What comes in are aircraft fresh from their test flights. What rolls out are planes freshly primed, painted and stenciled.

The provisional 76th Maintenance Wing employs 274 workers in two paint hangars. Each shift has about 85 painters on the floor, said Joe Harkins, acting deputy chief of the paint unit.

The painting process starts with sealing seams and chemically treating the aircraft, he said.

The treatment etches the metal skin so it will hold the paint and also includes a corrosion-preventive coating.

Corrosion typically occurs in areas that trap moisture and are exposed to acids or strong alkalis, Mr. Harkins said.

“If you’re going to fly an airplane 40 years, you’ve got to keep the corrosion down,” he said.

The current primer is “a lot better” than those used in the past, Mr. Harkins said.

A crew can primer a KC-135 Stratotanker in about 45 minutes, and just a few hours later, the aircraft is ready for paint.

The painters use a “high-solids” urethane paint, which means much of the solvents have been removed, leaving a heavier-bodied paint that is harder to apply, Mr. Harkins said.

“The solvents produce a chemical reaction, and when you remove the solvents, it slows the chemical reaction, [and] the paint is slower to dry,” Mr. Harkins said.

Still, a crew takes about three hours to give a KC-135 two coats -- about 120 gallons -- of paint.

The KC-135, B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer each receive one coat of primer and two coats of paint, which adds 420 to 500 pounds to the aircraft, Mr. Harkins said.

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