Comanche Restoration Series Part 2: Prep & Paint

Greg Piehl, who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, with his wife Debbie, spent three years restoring and upgrading their 1959 Piper Comanche 250. After 34 years grounded, the first flight of N6494P took place at Zephyrhills Airport, three days before leaving on a trip to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in July and August 2021. This is Part 2 of seven parts.

Last month, we chronicled the arduous task of getting this previously grounded plane from Massachusetts to Florida. This month, we’re going to discuss the stripping and painting of the entire fuselage, wings, and control surfaces.

Piehl did this at his personal shop. “I have a machine shop and I had enough space available in the shop to do one major component at a time,” he said.

Part 1 and Part 2 (this article) are being made free. Join today to read the other five parts and learn more about how to restore a Piper.

Of course, most plane owners would not be able to do all the work themselves, whether they had a personal shop at their disposal or not. The biggest question as we discuss this area of the restoration is: can or should the average pilot try this themselves?

Piehl is an engineer and has a history of doing such things. He’s not exactly typical. “I’ve been doing this kind of thing since I was 17 or 18 years old,” he said. “Doing custom motorcycle painting, airbrushing, stuff like that. In high school, I had a girlfriend who had a ’67 Mustang. I bought an air gun and sprayed her car. After a bit of sanding and buffing, it actually looked pretty nice. (I wish I had that car today!) So I’ve been doing this for almost 50 years; never as a profession, but I know how to paint.”

Here’s why that doesn’t really matter and why this article is meant for most pilots who are restoring a plane. Even if you’re not qualified to paint your plane yourself, you can still do most of the work. That is because of a simple fact that anybody who has painted their house or restained their deck knows: “Strip and prep are the most time-consuming part of the paint job,” Piehl said. “If you want to save some time and money, you can do some strip and prep, and even priming, yourself, in advance of a paint shop. (Most plane owners) don’t have the skills, knowledge, or equipment to do the paint job.”

Piehl used four colors and added some time and effort to his restoration by executing something we’ll discuss in the photo captions. He didn’t label or sticker anything; he painted everything by getting a stencil created — a reversed cutout vinyl template.

Because this was a complete restoration, this plane was going to be disassembled, which (as it relates to prep and paint) is fortunate. “I believe the best time to paint a plane is when it’s disassembled. Don’t disassemble it just to paint it, but you’ll get the best job possible if it is disassembled. That way you can look for damage, corrosion, anything like that,” Piehl said. “I have painted my other planes when they were assembled. But if you’re going to do that, you want to take off everything you can — you want to take off the flight controls, the wing root seals, and you need to mask off the windscreens and windows perfectly — or replace them, as I did.”

That doesn’t mean you should disassemble your plane for the purpose of painting it, but if you’re going to get it disassembled for some other reason (like an exhaustive search for corrosion), strongly consider repainting it then.

There are going to be four colors on this plane: Base white, burgundy, gray, and black.

Part 1 and Part 2 (this article) are being made free. Join today to read the other five parts and learn more about how to restore a Piper.

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