fighting tri pacer

FIGHTING Tri-pacer

Restoration & Paint

The Reader knows from my previous article in the last issue of our magazine, of my efforts to find and begin the militarization of my Piper Tri Pacer into a French Marine Corps fighting Tri Pacer. This article will outline the effort of repainting a fabric Tri Pacer that had been covered and painted prior to a restoration and not recovering with new fabric.

In any repaint/restoration effort you must know from the aircrafts logs when, how and the material list that the aircraft was covered and painted. I did all the work, restoration and painting with technical support from Consolidated Aircraft Coatings and Mr. Greg Albarian, Managing Director and my A&P Mechanic, Dennis. Your IA or A&P mechanic must inspect and assure the quality of your aircrafts current fabric condition before repaint and restoration. Fortunately mine was hangered all its life and was in prime condition, except for the normal fabric issues that I’ll cover as we proceed

Normal fabric after years on the aircraft will have some lifting tape edges, cracked paint and patch repairs. Consolidated Aircraft who is the Polyfiber Stits product you have all heard about, published an on line bible for fabric application and painting. “How to Cover an Aircraft Using the Poly-Fiber System” is downloadable for free from “”. This contains the STC for Fabric and paint plus the all-important appendix “I” as in Indian, of the authorized repair of fabric.

Any cracking of paint is a tough nut to get a good repair on. Sand carefully, avoiding high areas and go down just to the original fabric. Then you can use the various Polyfiber paint products to build the area. I learned from Greg to go-slow and paint a light coat, let tack and then a light coat and finally after the Aeothane has bonded you can apply heavier coats. This helps to avoid under lying reaction from your old paints. Using Aerothane silver, I coated the sanded areas to add back the UV protection on all repair sites. The aluminum in the paint blocks the UV. The silver Aerothane provided a uniform under coat for the Olive Drab topcoat later on.

Color and tactical markings were superbly rendered and provide by James Hagen of Aerographics.
Some cracked paint and prior repaired areas needed a standard patch as prescribed in “How to Cover an Aircraft Using the Poly-Fiber System”. On my upgraded 160 HP engine, the prop blast beats the right wing underside so I used a large patch to beef up that area. Some owners opt for putting in an aluminum cover but I was facing enough restoration and paint efforts so this will be a test. Hopefully my repair provides good service or I’ll replace it with an aluminum panel, time will tell.
On lifted tape edges, use a calibrated laundry iron at 225 degrees over baking paper and you can, with practice get very good at re-affixing of the lifted edges. On my lifted tape edges I was able to re-affix so well that I cant tell where they were following final paint. The reader should know that I built a fabric covered Kitfox so my fabric knowledge is certainly above the novice level. With practice and slow forward effort, repairs are very manageable.

With repairs completed I then wet sanded the entire aircraft with 320 wet and dry sand paper. This included 400 girt scotch brite as well. I can testify that my Tri Pace soon grew into a 747 Boeing airliner, stretched with winglets! In crusty areas you can use 220. With 400 or 320 sand paper and 400-scotch brite the final topcoat of Aerothane will not show the sanding marks. I used this to improve the prior workmanship. Remember in a restoration you are sometimes stuck with what the prior work shows. The only way to improve upon that becomes a total re-fabric project. N2650A was in fine shape not requiring a total fabric replacement. At that point my aircraft was just like the French ones, which were delivered in civilian livery and the French Marine Corps maintenance chief’s ground crews, did the same as I to get the aircraft tactically painted.

Id like to emphasis here that N2650A isrestored as a replica war bird Tri Pacer as no actual fighting Tri Pacers remain in the world. N2650A has been repainted and restored just as the French did with their aircraft from the early 1950’s until the Tri Pacers were phased out in 1975. Only two aircraft remain and those are in the French Air Force Museum in Dax France. The French Air Force has advised and consulted with me on my transformation of N2650A with keen support. The Covid 19 prevented my 2020 trip to visit the French Air Force, which is now scheduled for April 2021. We have used email for all technical correspondence so far.

Again, Greg Alberion of consolidated advised me on materials and products plus numerous technical phone calls to get as squared away as possible. Waldo, from consolidated, a fabric and paint expert also assisted with my many questions from time to time as well. The sanding completed and all the repairs accomplished, I was ready to paint.
The worst painting prep was over aluminum panels and cowlings. It is hard to remove all the years of paint and paint repairs so Greg suggested I use the Stits two-part epoxy primer in green. That color was ideal as it was almost an Olive Drab shade, which will serve well as the final paint ages with wear and chips of paint. With lots of sanding and coats of the epoxy all old paint was finally sealed and the new paint being a semi gloss Olive Drab sprayed nicely. I’m proud to boast I sprayed the whole aircraft without one run, sag or “oh S***”. Working on cowls and smaller metal parts gets you tuned for perfecting your final painting technique on the fabric.

On N2650A’s interior the color grey had been applied in 50 different shades. Finally I picked on a middle ground color of grey and after all was completed all grays looked good co-mingled. The exterior was painted from the French Marine Corps Olive Drab and I worked with Greg to put in just a hint of semi-gloss. This keeps oil and finger prints out of the final dried paint and still looks tactically correct as the aircraft is used. Planes in the past used lacquer paint and aircraft in combat usually had not one panel matching after any time in service. Greg also explained that Olive Drab has many different paint codes and hues so I standardize on the French color to match the actual French Marine Corps aircraft.

Painting of the aircraft’s top Forward Air Controller safety cross in white followed the Olive Drab paint. The aircraft I’m replicating was used as a Forward Air Controller in Algerian and African theaters of operation in support of the French Foreign Legion. I took special care to get precise paint lines and not lift the under lying new Olive Drab paint. To paint the white cross and white rudder for the French flag colors dictated the entire aircraft be masked. Proof is in the doing and I was able to get clean lines, and no over-spray. To get bleed free color lines use automotive polyurethane masking tape. Then when you spray the light color, first spray the tapeline with the dark paint you painting over, in my case the fresh Olive Drab. I had let the Olive Drab dry for two weeks to assure no lift from the removal of the tape after the white was on. The Olive Drab sprayed on the seam filled any fissures in the tapeline like a dam, so when 30 minutes later I painted the white; I was successful with no bleed into the Olive Drab! Clean straight color separation was achieved.
Proof is in the doing and on spraying the French Flag colors on N2650A’s tail, I used the same proven method as prescribed above. Remember not to rush and let the new paint cure for at least a week in 85 degree plus weather. With my research and technical advice from both Greg and the French Marine Corps I was able to achieve an exact duplication of the aircraft, which served the French Foreign Legion in Algerian and Africa operational areas during the 1950’s and 1960’s. N2650A is now a different Tri Pacer, as the tactical colors changed its civilian character into a Fighting Tri Pacer!