News | Dec. 19, 2023

First Full Paint Scheme Performed on Unmanned Helicopter at FRCSW

This year, Fleet Readiness Center South West (FRCSW) became the first depot to complete a full paint scheme for an MQ-8C Fire Scout. FRCSW artisans meticulously stripped and painted the aircraft, a task crucial for its longevity and operational readiness.

Surface preparation was key.

Typically using a hand sanding technique—as opposed to media blasting or chemical stripping hazardous to the environment and employee alike—specialists cleaned and stripped the aircraft’s surface to remove existing paint, coatings or contaminants.  Hand sanding was also generally healthier for the aircraft and lowered the likelihood for damage and rework. After surface preparation, a primer coat was applied to enhance adhesion and corrosion resistance. Using spray guns or specialized painting techniques, artisans then applied the base coat, which included the color and any markings or insignias desired by the squadron. Finally, a clear protective layer was applied over the base coat to provide additional durability. Throughout the process, masking techniques were used to ensure precise application and prevent paint from reaching areas where it should not be.

Stripping and painting was essential to the MQ-8C’s longevity and operational readiness for several reasons. It maintained the aircraft’s structural integrity, and allowed for detailed inspections, repairs and maintenance of the aircraft’s surfaces. It also contributed to the overall longevity and serviceability of the aircraft. In addition, MQ-8C aircraft operated in various environments, including high humidity, saltwater exposure, and extreme temperatures. The paint system acted as a protective barrier, shielding the aircraft’s metal surfaces from corrosion caused by moisture and other agents. Moreover, military aircraft often required specific camouflage patterns or colors to blend with their operational environment, such as forests, deserts or open ocean. The paint job made the aircraft less visible and harder to detect by enemy forces. Proper strip and paint procedures ensured that the aircraft displayed the appropriate national insignias, identification codes, unit markings and other required visual cues. These markings facilitated quick identification by friendly forces and aided in effective communication during military operations. 

For heat management, some specialized coatings or heat-reflective paints can be applied to aircraft surfaces to manage heat absorption, particularly for areas exposed to high temperatures from engines, exhaust, or other sources. This helped prevent excessive heat buildup and potential damage to sensitive components. By ensuring proper strip and paint procedures, military aircraft maintained their operational readiness, protect against corrosion, enhanced camouflage, facilitated identification, managed heat, and extended their service life—all crucial factors for military effectiveness and safety.

The MQ-8C Fire Scout, a variant of the MQ-8B, is an unmanned aerial vehicle used for expeditionary operations aboard ships. The Navy’s only unmanned helicopter, deployable from land or sea, it provides target-acquisition, real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the men and women of the US Navy and Marine Corps. In 2015, Naval Air Systems Command designated FRCSW as the location for all maintenance and repair workload on the MQ-8 airframe.

In charge of the process for planning, labor estimates, material and tooling requirements, Jay Noblin and Jeremy Gates are two key leaders that spearheaded the successful enhancement and preservation of the MQ-8C at FRCSW.

“It was a good team effort between engineers and artisans to complete the MQ-8C in what we all believe is a very timely manner,” Gates said.

“We have been lucky to have good leadership that knows about this process and they’re taking what they learned from one aircraft variant to the next,” Noblin said.

Described by Noblin as being “leaders in this rework,” the command successfully completed the full paint scheme of the MQ-8C in just two weeks and at a cost lower than any other organization. As the first depot to complete the full paint scheme for the MQ-8C, FRCSW set the standard and is looking forward to completing future Naval Aviation advancements and solutions.