Painting the big red tail

Supplier: Oldfields Advance Scaffold By: Julia Harris
24 October, 2011

It's taken three weeks, 20 vertical metres (65 feet) of scaffolding, $60,000, 30 volunteers, 75 litres ($10,000 worth) of paint, more than a case of masking tape to re-paint the tail on the Qantas Founders Museum's Boeing 747 aircraft exhibit.

This retired Qantas Boeing 747-200 aircraft has been on display at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach since 2002 and because the aircraft exhibit is out in the open, the paint on the red tail had started to deteriorate. After all the hard labour, the paint job's now complete and in the next few days the scaffolding will come down to reveal a shiny fresh red tail.
The tail on a Boeing 747 is massive and measures up to half the size of a football field, it's also a rather difficult shape and height; so it was a project that presented plenty of challenges. Rodney Seccombe, Managing Director of the Qantas Foundation Memorial said after negotiating the scaffolding for three weeks, it seemed like the tail area was the size of a whole football field-and-a-half! 
"You know the airlines have the machinery to do it, we don't , the scaffolding is square and straight and the plane is round and tapered and the two shapes don't go together. In a couple of places we had to get outside the scaffolding on safety ropes, but otherwise it worked very well."
The plane is also out in the open air and subject to changes in the wind and weather which added another layer of difficulties for the painters.
"Because we were out in the open we had the wind, we had the sun, we had hot metal and freezing metal; we had all the variables you like, which kept changing the way the paint reacted. They are normally painted in a hangar with spray guns and it is a very controlled atmosphere. Also on a couple of days it was so windy, it was blowing everything off the scaffolding and we just gave up in the end,"  

The painting project went through a number of phases, first of all the scaffolding had to be erected to keep the workers safe, then the first job on the plane was to scuff the old paint to create a surface suitable for the new paint. The tail then had to be washed, the windows and strips and stripes had to be masked ready for the red paint.

When the professional painters turned up they completed the more challenging jobs of masking and painting the big white kangaroos and the finer detailing. The whole tail area was then painted with a final coat of clear paint to provide additional protection from the weather.
Around 30 people volunteered their time to help with the project and Mr Seccombe said it was something that most people in the world would never get a chance to do.
"You know be able to say to their kids, I put that red paint up there on the corner! I think it was the novelty of it and a lot of people are really genuinely interested in the aircraft."
Mr Seccombe said although the 747 tail painting project was challenging in many ways, it did come up well and looks really great from a distance.
"I would have liked a better close-up finish on the paint, but I think we've done a pretty good job. I'm proud of it anyhow,"