The Plane Facts About Aircraft and Soda Blasting

Attention aeronautical enthusiasts! Our passion for restoration doesn’t stop at cars, bikes, boats, and buildings. Join us as we answer a selection of crucial questions about aeroplane blast cleaning and restoration. Chocks away!

At Soda Blasting Ltd, we have a number of vehicle restoration interests, but one that doesn’t get a lot of coverage is our passion for all things aeronautical – we even have a couple of pilots in our midst !

Soda blasting is an excellent method for cleaning all kinds of airfaring craft due to the minimal risk of heat damage, and the variety of materials that it can safely clean.

So without further ado, let’s get to the questions!

What types of aircraft do you generally work on?

The usual types we’re tasked with cleaning are single and twin engine aeroplanes that require bare metal or fibreglass cleaning; generally 2- or 4-seaters. In the past we’ve worked on craft manufactured by Cessna, Cirrus, Piper; along with aerobatic types such as Yaks and Pitts Specials – and even a Sabre jet fighter! Our team have only worked on fixed-wing planes to date, but we’d love the opportunity to work on helicopters too!

PA28 Dakota soda blasted

Which methods of blast cleaning are most useful for aerospace projects?

Soda blasting is above and beyond the most useful method for cleaning finishes from aeroplane bodywork and components. Using other media blasting methods can run the risk of damaging thin sheet metal bodywork, or possibly even causing weaknesses within the plane’s structure. Soda blasting is one of the most gentle blast cleaning methods around, making it incredibly versatile for most types of vehicle restoration.

Steel, aluminium, and fibreglass are all commonly used materials in aerospace, all of which can be safely cleaned by soda blasting. We generally use soda to clean fuselages, wings, cockpits, and undercarriage areas; whereas engine components can be cleaned using soda or vapour blasting depending on the finish that’s required.

What kinds of people and organisations request blast cleaning for aircraft?

The majority of our aircraft cleaning projects come from private owners who may be building or restoring their own craft. We’ve previously worked with professional aircraft restoration companies, and also accept work from aerospace museums, especially those looking to bring historic craft back to their former glory.

Do you clean aerospace projects in-house or on-site?

Our Wolverhampton facility contains a purpose-built soda blasting booth which is 6m wide, 4m long and 2.5m high; anything smaller than this can be cleaned in-house. Smaller, internal components in need of vapour blasting will be generally cleaned within our in-house vapour blasting cabinet which is roughly 1 square metre in size.

Larger projects and full wingspan work will need to be carried out at your site, preferably outdoors in a secluded area. Behind hangars at quiet airfields is a great example of somewhere we could work – with permission from the airfield owner of course!

What is Soda Blasting Ltd’s process for aeronautical customers?

As per our usual process for non-landfaring vehicles, we ask the customer to email over as many photographs and as much information as possible. Most of the time, we will be able to quote from this information; but if we can’t, we will arrange a site visit to assess the work needed.

Depending on the size of the component being cleaned, we will then make the decision to either clean the item in-house at our Wolverhampton facility, or to visit your site to carry out the work. On-site projects are left in a bare-metal state, but we can offer paint-priming for projects that take place within our facility.

What advice do you give to customers following an aircraft cleaning project?

If you’re looking to paint an item following soda cleaning, or have had internal engine components cleaned, be aware that the cleaning process leaves a fine layer of deposited soda crystals on the cleaned surface. This layer needs to be washed off with water before any paint is applied, or it won’t adhere to the surface properly. In the case of engine and mechanical parts that have been soda or vapour cleaned, we also recommend that these are thoroughly cleaned with water in case any spent media is left on or in the unit that may cause damage when the component is in use. If you’re washing metals that are susceptible to rusting, always remember to thoroughly dry the item immediately to avoid corrosion.

Are there any other safety issues to be aware of?

Soda cleaning uses loud machinery and creates a lot of dust, so our team wear ear defenders and breathing apparatus for safety during the cleaning process. For the safety of others during cleaning, we will cordon off the area around the vehicle during cleaning, so the area will only be accessible to our personnel.

We strongly warn against carrying out work near an active airfield; the dust that is expelled during the soda blasting process can blow across runways and cause visibility issues.

Are there any elements of aircraft cleaning where Soda Blasting Ltd don’t get involved?

We generally turn away any work that involves the cleaning of propellers or rotor blades. Soda cleaning is very gentle and unlikely to cause an issue, but due to the very slim chance of damage or weakening, we’d simply rather not risk it!

What makes Soda Blasting Ltd different as an aircraft blast cleaning provider?

One thing that we feel makes us stand out is our personal interest in aircraft. Some of our team even have private pilot licenses and frequently take to the skies themselves!  We are incredibly proud of our ever-growing first-hand knowledge of aircraft, and clean all manner of components including fuselages, wings, engine components, wheels, and bodywork sections.

Aeronautical parts – especially those from vintage craft – can be incredibly rare and hard to source. Entrusting these items to a third party can be worrisome, but our team proudly treat each item with the same care and attention that we would our own belongings.

So if you have an aircraft you’re looking to restore, talk to our expert team! As best you’ll leave with an expertly cleaned component and a box ticked off your restoration “to do” list. At worst, you’ll have had a chat with fellow friendly aeronautical enthusiasts! Call us today on 0800 774 7632 to talk about how we can help.