Removing special livery and returning a Eurofighter to active duty in its regular grey paint-scheme can be quite a challenge – especially if you are doing it for the first time. A (picture) feature on how the Airbus Defence and Space team at Eurofighter Kooperation Zelle in Manching made it happen anyway.
Specially painted fighter or transport aircraft are a familiar sight in many air forces. For special occasions or dedicated units, such as the famous NATO Tigers, some aircraft are given a beautiful design for a certain period of time.
Eurofighter 30+68 (GS 0050) took off with a special paint livery ever since the Luftwaffe celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2016.
In most cases today, jets receive a special film that is comparatively easy to apply and to remove. In some cases, however, they receive a full-blown paint job.
While beautiful to look at, applying and especially removing the paint is a tremendous challenge. It’s a very real challenge that the teams at the Eurofighter Kooperation Zelle, or EKZ, in Manching faced for the very first time in 2021.
While beautiful to look at, the special livery had to come off eventually so the fighter jet could return to active duty.
In late January 2021, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) delivered Eurofighter 30+68 (GS0050) from its home base in Neuburg, Bavaria to Manching for regular maintenance. At the time, that particular jet was carrying a special paint livery from 2016, when the Luftwaffe celebrated its 60th anniversary. As part of the maintenance, the jet was also slated to have its special livery removed and returned to service in the regular grey paint scheme.
Sounds like a straightforward plan – only it wasn’t.
“We had a tremendous amount of respect for that job since scraping the paint off a fully painted jet wasn’t something we had done before,” said Peter Hadwiger, Head of EKZ at Airbus Defence and Space. “We had to think carefully about how to proceed and, of course, to ensure that we could perform all the other activities we do when we overhaul a jet from scratch to stay within the planned timeframe.”
The German single seater Eurofighter 30+68 (GS0050) arrived at the EKZ hangar in Manching in January 2021 to be overhauled from scratch.
The pure maintenance work on the one hand and the removal of the paint on many parts on the other hand required close coordination between the teams at EKZ.
Communication and coordination between all of the departments involved turned out to be spot on, even if the overall effort cost “a lot of nerves,” recalled Stefan Spiegl, Dockchief Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul at Airbus Defence and Space.
“To avoid damage to the parts and to remove the paint effectively, we had to go about the task very prudently,” Stefan said.
Furthermore, as this effort represented a first, alignment with the coordination and planning teams was of utmost importance. “For MRO, it was the first jet where the entire surface coating had to be sanded down and renewed.”
The complete surface coating had to be sanded down.
As a result, he said, work plans had to be adjusted.
“There was an adjustment to the operational work plan that resulted in a considerable additional effort beyond the standard measure,” added Stefan Kober, Process Engineer with Airbus Defence and Space in Manching.
The overall time of the aircraft spent at the EKZ in 2021 was stretched a bit until the so-called “power on” as many parts had to be transferred to the paint shop.
The challenge the paint shop faced was that there were no written rules or certified work processes for such a detailed exercise, recalled Thomas Biesendorfer, Group Lead Surface for Eurofighter and Tornado aircraft at Airbus Defence and Space.
What helped the team tremendously was the experience of several individuals from the automotive industry.
“Several of us, myself included, are certified car painters. So we went back to our roots and basically applied our automotive expertise. Along the way, we developed new processes and validated every step with our Quality Assurance colleagues. For that, we used the smaller parts of the aircraft that were sent to us early on,” said Thomas.
Small parts first: The car-painting expertise of the team came in handy when new processes had to be created and validated.
Compared to the Tornado, special attention must be given to the parts that are often made of carbon fibre.
“MRO is, after all, manual work. Our experience from having worked on cars, which also use carbon fibre, was invaluable. It helped us prove that we could do the job. It showed that no matter how big the challenge, we can find a solution,” Thomas said.
MRO colleagues needed to give special attention to the parts made out of carbon-fibre material
The smaller parts, which were disassembled from the Eurofighter, received their primer within a week and were put back on the jet, which was undergoing maintenance.
The smaller parts were disassembled from the Eurofighter first and laid out on a table to be further processed.
In fact, to save time as much as possible, the aircraft was given special clearance to perform the necessary check flights, during which some of the parts still had paint applied while the primer had already been applied to others. This “Frankenstein” version made for a rare sight in the skies over Manching in the autumn of 2021.
Rare sight above Manching: The “Frankenstein” version takes off for one of its check flights.
Typically, Airbus’s own test crews perform several check flights before the aircraft is returned to its operational unit.
After the check flights had been successfully concluded, Thomas said, the jet was handed over to the Surface team to strip off the paint from the last major parts, such as the wings, and apply the standard grey paint.
Eurofighter GS0050 prior to the stripping of the larger parts.
“The paint stripping on this particular aircraft had a great side effect,” said Thomas. It had been the first full paint job since the last series production aircraft.
Thomas and his colleagues took the opportunity to certify an improved water-based paint system that uses significantly less solvent and is now ready for use in all future cases.
“We want and need to become more sustainable in what we do, and this particular job enabled us to put a new system in place that allows us to become ‘greener’ when painting an aircraft,” said Thomas. Werner Resch, Head of the Surface Treatment department, added: “I am very proud of the team’s great performance. The topic of paint stripping from fibre composites will take on an ever greater role in the future. Projects like these give us the opportunity to expand our competencies.”
Men at work: Georg Brummer, Nico Buttgereit, Tobias Leunens, Andreas Brandmeier and Thomas Biesendorfer (from left to right).
In the case of 30+68, the aircraft was handed back to Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 74 in early December 2021 and immediately reintegrated into daily operations.
Despite the complexity of the job, the Airbus teams were satisfied.
In December 2021, Eurofighter 30+68 (GS 0050) was all set to return to active duty. Pictured here with Airbus’ Werner Resch, Markus Braun, Georg Brummer, Tobias Leunens, Andreas Brandmeier, Daniel Drescher and Thomas Biesendorfer (from left to right).
“Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and many people therefore working from home, this job reflects very good cooperation between all the departments involved. We often talk about ‘We are one’ as a motto in the company. This job here really showed that it is the case,” concluded Gerry-Norman Doerfl, Aircraft Manager at Airbus Defence and Space.