Aviation Safety Letter 2/2003
Is Your Life Hanging by a Thread?
Aircraft fabric is not like cotton from a good old pair of pants or a comfy old shirt - it won't last forever. It isn't submitted to the same stress either, as it is subjected to constant loads and changing weather conditions.
How often do you ask yourself, "I wonder what the life expectancy of the fabric covering my airplane is? I wonder if it's still airworthy?"
Since you're the one responsible for the continued airworthiness of your ultralight, microlight or amateur-built airplane, you should ask yourself those questions at least once a year and take the appropriate action to confirm that your synthetic fabric is indeed airworthy. The life span of aircraft fabric is affected by its exposure to the elements, the kind of flying that you do and the care that it receives. Initially though, the attention given to the manufacturer's recommended installation process is of paramount importance to ensure that the fabric will last a long time. The protective coatings (ultraviolet light (U-V) blocker coatings and paint), the application process and the cleanliness of the fabric before painting are all extremely important as well.
Aircraft fabric usually consists of Poly-Fiber© or Dacron®, but in some cases it may be Tedlar® or RipStop Nylon. It may be called Ceconite©, Stits PolyFiber©, Nylon and other names but it remains a synthetic fabric. The fabric can have a life span of 20 years if the installation is done properly and it receives adequate care, but it may not last more than a couple of years if you fail to use the recommended U-V blocker coating that serves to protect it from molecular breakdown due to sunlight and if you let the aircraft sit outside in the weather. The weight of the protective coating on any ultralight or microlight airplane is negligible when you realize that it is spread over the entire surface of the wings and structure. Your safety resides with you. Take action!
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