|Lars Gleitsmann of BetterAircraftFabric demonstrates the puncture resistance of its Oratex pre-painted fabric. (photo by Randy Dufault)
By Randy Dufault
July 31, 2013 - One distinct advantage for this year's winning Super Cub at the infamous Valdez, Alaska, STOL contest was an airplane at least 30 pounds lighter than other similar craft. A recent recovering with BetterAircraftFabric's Oratex pre-painted fabrics resulted in the lighter weight, and possibly, the victory.
In addition to being lighter, the Oratex system can be applied without the usual precautions and equipment necessary when covering with a traditional lifetime fabric system.
"We want to enable people to build fabric-covered airplanes, that look like they are covered with normal lifetime fabrics, in their living rooms," said Lars Gleitsmann at the company's booth in Hangar A.
"This product will enable someone to restore a Fairchild 24 or any kind of fabric-covered airplane in the living room, or in a typical American attached garage.
"The normal processes are not just toxic and extremely dangerous while you spray the stuff. They continue to outgas toxins while curing. That basically denies any possibility of doing any kind of traditional aircraft fabric work in a house with an attached garage.
"With our fabric all of that is history. All the painting happens at the factory. Our fabric can be painted like normal fabric, but it does not have to be for any technical reason."
Adhesives used with the fabric are heat activated and solvent free. Cleanup, as long as the adhesive has not cured, simply requires water.
A key design characteristic of the Oratex fabric is a built-in limit to the amount of tension the fabric will attain.
"If you tighten the fabric too much [with typical systems] the airframe structure underneath will be crushed," Gleitsmann said. "It is a very common to see trailing edges that are buckled inward and lower longerons sucked in because the fabric is shrinking and pulling so hard.
"Our fabric is designed in a way that it cannot exceed, and will not exceed, a certain tightness. It is tight enough for good flight characteristics, but it can't tighten more than needed. It is impossible to destroy the airframe by overtightening."
Time required to cover an airplane should be shorter as well. Gleitsmann estimates that an expert will require approximately 250 hours to cover an aircraft the size of a Super Cub with a traditional system. Amateur builders could easily consume 500 hours doing the same job. With the Oratex system he estimates the same job should require not much more than 100 hours.
Installation techniques are similar to other systems. Stitching is required if the aircraft design calls for it, though the pinked-edge tape used to cover the stitching already has glue applied to the back. Gleitsmann says applying the tape is no more difficult than applying duct tape.
The fabric is currently available in eight different colors and more are planned.