Renton Technical College Students Get Practical Experience Painting WWII Spitfire Replica

The collaboration between Doug Wilson and RTC allows students to apply the skills that they've learned to a real-life project.

In ’s 30-some years, no student enrolled in any of the Automotive Training programs has had the opportunity to paint an airplane, although several have gone on to paint planes at Boeing.

That changed late last year when Doug Wilson, a Galvin Flying Services employee, became the owner of a full-scale replica of a WWII Spitfire Mark 9 airplane that had been on display at the Museum of Flight near Boeing Field. However, the museum eventually acquired a real Spitfire, so the replica found it’s new home outside by a group of trailers.

A self-described Spitfire enthusiast, Wilson spotted the replica while on his way to work.

“Eventually I got this crazy idea of calling the Museum of Flight,” he said of his idea to restore the plane, much like the small-scale models he began making as a child. “I have a lot of working familiarity with that type of aircraft.”

After the smaller models came radio-controlled flying versions, and eventually Wilson crafted a 6-foot model. The full-scale replica, however, “is the first project of this magnitude,” he said.

For this project, he’d need more than a few extra hands.

Wilson got on the phone, contacting all the local autobody programs. Renton Technical College Automotive Instructor Brad Slayton was the only one who returned Wilson’s call.

The RTC instructor took a few students with him to assess the plane and together they decided to take on the project.

Wilson transported the plane to Renton on a travel trailer, and with the help of 20 students, they unloaded the disassembled fuselage and wings and moved the pieces inside the autobody workshop.

While the students work on the plane, Wilson reinforced the trailer for its next job: moving the Spitfire from the college to the Olympic Flight Museum in Tumwater.

It’s no small undertaking, and Wilson credits the Renton Technical College students and staff for making it happen.

“They’ve done a marvelous job,” he said.

Eight second-year students are working on the project, said Slayton, who estimates all the sanding, painting and finishing will take a total of 350 man hours to complete.

The students’ first task was to sand off the old paint, all the way down to bare metal, Slayton said. Next came a few cosmetic fixes on the body where the model had been bumped and dented over the years. And then the painting began.

The plane arrived sporting the colors of a U.S. North African Spitfire from 1943-44, said Wilson, describing it as a sandy color with brown on top and eggshell blue on the bottom. The plane’s new paint scheme will be more authentic: standard Royal British Air Force camouflage, dark green and dark grey with red and blue roundels.

Student Steven Driggers said the experience is different than working on a car, but requires many of the same steps from prep work to painting and finishing.

“And it’s kind of cool to do camouflage,” he added while standing in one of the school’s down draft paint booths.

Driggers will graduate this year and plans to work in a body shop. He then plans to pursue a career painting planes at Boeing.

Slayton said the students will re-assemble the plane and wrap the rest of the project this week.


The WWII Spitfire Mark 9 Project By The Numbers:

  • $400 per sprayable gallon of paint
  • 350 man-hours to complete
  • 8 second-year students are working on the project
  • 7 gallons of paint





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