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Can The Right Coat Of Paint Save General Aviation In America?

 A beautiful 1973 Citabria 7ECA with great looking paint  (photo:

 Honestly, I didn't set out to start a series of posts on 'Saving General Aviation', it just sorta happened when I realized that a potentially wildly popular homebuilt airplane like the Onex from Sonex could actually be a catalyst for big time turn-around. As some of the comments from that first post in the new 'Saving GA' category shows, not everyone agrees in the power of a little airplane like that to have any real impact. I understand the skepticism, but I learned to fly back in 1974 when I was 13 in a Citabria very similar to the one above, same paint scheme, but it was red, and was the 150hp 7KCAB. The 70's were a pretty boomin' time for general aviation, so at the very least, I have some history with being a young and very active pilot right in the middle of an exciting time in aviation. I feel like I have a sense for the kinds of things that could bring those days back... and I'm thinking if the Onex can fulfill all its promise, it'll be a part of the solution.

 The more I thought all this thru, the more I let my slightly twisted mind run with possible ideas that could make a difference. That's when I came up with the idea of a nationwide network of 'Cub Training Centers' as an effective way to train loads of new pilots at lower cost. This comes partly from low daily operating costs, but mostly from the low acquisition cost of an old original Cub compared to ANY new airplane. A Type Certificate that was pretty much paid for by the late 1940's means that old Cubs are miles ahead of airplanes that are still on the uphill climb to pay for their development costs. A couple of wonderful by-products of Cub training are: new pilots that can fly a taildragger, which I will always believe makes you a better pilot, and, new pilots who have experienced flight from day-one on the more 'fun' side of the fence.

 But now I'm moving on to 'Saving GA' idea number 3. Are you ready for it? It's paint. Yeah I know, you probably already think I'm crazy, and if you don't, this idea will probably push you over the edge. But I think the right paint jobs could have a huge impact on the public perception of flying, which in turn could draw thousands of new people into aviation. My honest assessment of the paint jobs on the vast majority of general aviation aircraft built today is that they run from uninspired to downright awful. I see a few that rise above this condition, but very few. I realize this is my opinion and you may not agree.

 To me, airplanes that are mostly white with an odd mix of bizarre swooshy lines in boring colors is just not the way to attract people. Especially these days since the people we wanna attract have been heavily exposed to a world that is hardcore driven by high-quality graphic images. From sports teams, to NASCAR, to coffee stores (to whatever you can think of).... marketing with a great graphic image is standard operating procedure these days. Except in the world of factory built aviation. I think this has to change, ASAP! 

 A colorful row of Cessna 195's at Oshkosh 2010  (photo: AirPigz)

 As an example of what I'm talking about, take a look around at any local fly-in, or a mega event like Oshkosh (any event that attracts homebuilt, antique and classic aircraft) - one of the most obvious things you'll notice is a lot of color. Like that Citabria in the top pic, or the classic Cesnna 195's above, most airplanes that are flown by people who really love to fly have a lot more excitement going on with the paint. Coincidence? I don't think so. I think paint that inspires and excites goes hand in hand with a person's desire to fly. Seems like great paint would certainly have the ability to better catch people's attention and ignite a passion for flight that actually leads them to pursuing learning to fly. It sure couldn't hurt.

 It's not just about color tho, it's also about a paint scheme that really compliments the airplane's design. I don't think I'm the only one who would say that most general aviation factory paint schemes are just weird. We need a real revolution in the graphic design concepts that relate to airplanes. I haven't done exhaustive searching on the subject yet, but so far I only find one source for extremely effective paint scheme design, and that's from the Italy-based Aircraft Studio Design. Mirco Pecorari and his team have created some of the most powerful visual enhancements to a wide range of aircraft over the last several years. Their work has been used by many race and airshow aircraft, like Gary Ward's MX2 below, for example. You've probably seen lots of their work and didn't even know it. I'll have a detailed post on that before long.


Stunning paint design on Gary Wards's MX2  (photo:

 But the point here is that great graphics speak to people. And with the relatively high cost of aviation compared to many other activities, we sure better be offering an experience that keeps you desperately wanting more. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I know we can do much better than we have been. Understand, I'm not suggesting that all general aviation airplanes start looking like that hot MX2 above, as clearly a paint scheme that complex would add noticeably to the cost, but with some serious creative sweat, we can transform the boring paint schemes of most airplanes into sensible, cost-effective 'brand marketing' for the truly amazing world of aviation. I think we desperately need the right coat of paint to help revitalize general aviation in America. 

 As always, I'm interested in your thoughts... I'm pretty sure you have some : )


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Reader Comments (1)

I do agree with you. I build custom hot rods and have been doing custom painting for years. I'm also an A&P Mechanic and teach at the local A&P school in the airframe section in Plattsburgh,NY. I've been talking to several pilots and mechanics about this same subject and all agreed. I have been considering opening a fabric and paint shop where I could turn loose my ideas. I also have been custom painting R/C turbine jets to use as a palate and have had 4 model airplane cover shots which have had great reviews. Wish I could download some pics. Well, enough about me, time to put this idea to the test. Thanks, Leonard "Max" Smart

April 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeonard Smart

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