How to Refurbish a Jet for the Long-Term

Did you hear about the Gulfstream GIV refurbishment that looks as good today as it did 14 years ago? Duncan Aviation’s Nate Klenke walks Matt Harris through the cabin sharing this aircraft's story, and offers tips to extend the life of your own jet’s paint and interior…

Matt Harris  |  24th June 2021
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    Matt Harris
    Matt Harris

    Matt Harris is Commissioning Editor for AvBuyer. He is an experienced General and Business Aviation...

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    How to make a private jet interior last longer

    Back in 2007, a Gulfstream GIV arrived at Duncan Aviation’s refurbishment facility for new paint and a cabin make-over. While the results were stunning at the time – the aircraft was due to go on Static Display at that year’s NBAA Convention in Atlanta – few could have envisaged the work looking quite as fresh as it does 14 years later...

    Though Nate Klenke, Sales Manager for Modifications at Duncan Aviation, spoke with AvBuyer for around 30 minutes, he assures us he could easily spend a couple more hours discussing the refurbishment, which he says has been one of the most memorable projects he has worked on, largely due to the aircraft ownership and management team involved in creating the vision for such an outstanding project.

    At that time, Klenke was working on the design team for Duncan Aviation and recalls some of the initial challenges that needed to be overcome to ensure a successful result.

    “Original designs for the exterior paint included a faded pattern, but working with fades can be a challenge and add extra cost to the long-term maintenance,” he explains.

    Instead, a paint scheme far more personalized to the aircraft was devised, and its Registration Number proved to be the solution. “We came up with the idea to take the registration number of the airplane, incorporating it into a complex series of stripes through continuous thinning of the font to create the illusion of a fade without the inherent challenges of a true color-changing fade.

    “This method, combined with the darker base-color, provided a solution that met the intent of the original concept,” Klenke says.

    Inspired by a Bracelet

    Meanwhile, the highly creative exterior was matched with an interior inspired by the Cartier Love bracelet. For this, Duncan Aviation worked with Connecticut-based designer Havilande Whitcomb, founder of Aviation Aesthetics, who remained involved in the project from start to finish.

    “Havilande collaborated with Duncan Aviation designers to pick the majority of the materials, to ensure they met aviation regulations,” Klenke recalls. And while some parts of the old interior were reused, many of the elements were replaced entirely.

    “We used a combination of two-tone veneer on the cabinets and partitions with highlights of carbon fiber and plated metal inlay across the entire length of the aircraft interior.” The lower side-wall covering was made up from 90 shagreen skins, which posed their own challenge in their raw state. “Each hide inherently came to us with irregular shapes and holes where the eyes once were that needed to be considered as we planned for the application.

    “We had to cut the stingray hides into a shape we could use efficiently to cover the interior panel,” Klenke explains, “but not with traditional tools, such as scissors, because of the bony cartilage present in the hides.

    “Our solution was to use our water jet. Who would have guessed water – the life substance of the creature that supplied the hides – would be the solution used to transform its beauty into the timeless finish for the interior of this aircraft.”

    Once cut, Duncan Aviation technicians took all of the skins, laid them out, and ordered them in color gradation with the intent to provide a coordinated appearance throughout the cabin.

    The effort was well worthwhile, for its visual appeal and also its durability. “Over the years,” Klenke notes, “the sidewalls have held up remarkably well against the regular traffic aircraft interiors are exposed to.”

    Another challenge that turned into an opportunity lay in the PSU grab-rail design. The design included carbon graphite grab rails to coordinate with the carbon graphite details for the drink-rails and cabin tables.

    The tubes that were commercially available at the time were only available in 42-inch lengths, so, “we created ‘couplers’ and a series of plated details, strategically located in each section of the cabin, inspired by the bracelet,” Klenke notes. 

    “This both enhanced the design and accommodated the restrictions of the parts available.”

    Elsewhere in the cabin, customized cup holders with integrated monitor receptacles were fabricated, and a customized lift was created for the TV located on the credenza, so it could be raised or lowered and hidden from sight when not in use. This mechanism represented an industry-first in an airplane interior, and includes an integrated lid.

    Cabin Walk-Around

    The net effect of the refurbishment was, and still is, dazzling. Passengers entering the airplane move through the entrance, past a forward lavatory that was also installed during the refurbishment, and into the main cabin area.

    At the front of the cabin, a four place VIP club-seating arrangement showcases the selection of customized leather used for the cabin make-over.

    Above: The newly refurbished Gulfstream GIV forward cabin area, and (below) as it was photographed in 2020 (Photo courtesy of Dan Savinelli)

    Moving further down the cabin, a mid-cabin divan sporting a durable light blue mohair-covered divan is positioned on the left, opposite two facing seats to the right. And towards the rear of the cabin, the credenza faces a conference grouping of seats arranged in a club-four configuration. An aft galley and lavatory complete the cabin layout.

    For Klenke, the stand-out feature of the project was the opportunity it gave Duncan Aviation to explore new machining capabilities to create the various elements. 

    “The use of materials was not typical,” he reflects. “The Cartier bracelet concept, creating customized couplers, the credenza top, the new technology and equipment – these were things we hadn’t been able to do easily before.”

    “The details and design we created as a team brought the entire design together,” Klenke says. “It’s the only one like it in the world.”

    Above: The newly refurbished Gulfstream GIV mid-cabin section in 2007, and (below) how it looked in 2020. Photograph: Dan Savinelli

    Standing the Test of Time

    To achieve the standard that was ultimately required by the Gulfstream GIV’s owner, Klenke says that working with an independent designer was a huge benefit. “It exposed us to some great idea-sharing.”

    The end result has been described as ‘timeless’. If truth be told, an aircraft interior lasting 14 years in such good condition is almost unheard of, so it’s rare to find an example that has stood the test of time in this condition. Yet, Klenke shares some important factors for aircraft owners to consider when they’re refurbishing with the longer-term in mind.

    “Havilande understands trends relating to material selections; what stands the test of time, what will likely remain on-trend, or what could go out of fashion. In terms of the timelessness of this jet’s cabin, maybe we got a little lucky – but we have got to give Havilande credit for understanding trends with her material selections.”

    While the aircraft owner can always expect to have a big say in the materials and colors used in their jet’s cabin refurbishment, Klenke points to this particular cabin as a good example of not getting carried away.

    “Fortunately, Cartier bracelets extend through time,” he smiles.

    “Most importantly, the details we used on this Gulfstream GIV were not based around trends of the time, but on good design principles, and understanding the owner’s expectations,” he adds.

    “Just look at some of the home-refurbishment choices – will white cabinets still be fashionable in luxury kitchens ten or fifteen years from now, or will we see a return to oak panelling? It’s hard to predict – but whether you’re refurbishing your home or the business jet, the principle is the same: Don’t base your choices on what’s hot now – just focus on making good selections.”

    Above: The aft cabin area newly-refurbished in 2007, and (below) how it looked in 2020. Photo - Dan Savinelli

    Refurbishing With Durability in Mind…

    While defining a refurbishment’s longevity is subjective, bearing some relation to how the aircraft is used and how many passengers are travelling on board, for example, there are elements to this project that have definitely contributed to the interior looking as good as it does today.

    “This Gulfstream GIV has seen some limited charter use, so it’s seen a fair amount of flying time over the years,” Klenke shares. “This is where ownership and care of an aircraft is important. Keep it clean. Do regular adjustments to seating where you see the leather stretching.”

    Material quality is also really important. “You may think you can save money through a lesser-grade product, but the finish may stretch, or rub off more quickly,” he warns. 

    “Use quality materials, spend a little bit more in the shorter-term to help with the longevity of your cabin refurbishment.”

    You can also work with your MRO shop to help ensure the interior can be more easily removed during future inspections (for example, here the GIV’s PSUs are designed with components that help align the panels for a perfect fit yet articulate to allow the pieces to be removed for access easily to minimize damage.

    “If an interior is difficult to remove then you’re likely to see more wear-and-tear on the various pieces over time, and you won’t get longevity out of your interior,” Klenke warns.

    Above: The galley area of the Gulfstream GIV when newly refurbished, and (below) pictured in 2020, photo - Dan Savinelli

    How to Extend the Life of Your Cabin Interior

    However good the workmanship and materials are, though, the interior of this Gulfstream GIV also demonstrates the consistently excellent care and diligence of its owner. For operators wanting to maximize the life of a new cabin refurbishment, Klenke offers these five practical tips:

    1. Clean and condition the cabin after every flight.
    2. Hangar the aircraft. If your jet is sitting on a ramp for long periods of time, exposed to the elements, it will wear harder than a jet kept in a hangar.
    3. Close the window shades when not in use to help prevent ultraviolet rays from spoiling the cabin’s fabrics and materials, causing discoloration and fading.
    4. Consider having a spare carpet – especially where the aircraft will be made available for charter. With spare carpets, you can swap one with the other while you properly clean them regularly.
    5. Keep short accounts. If a thread comes loose on a seat, address it before it becomes a bigger problem. If a seat covering is stretching and becomes baggy, have it adjusted before it develops a fold, creating more permanent damage to the finish and necessitating more costly repairs or potentially an entirely new cover.

    “Think of what your yard would look like if you did nothing to maintain the beauty after the sod was first placed,” Klenke summarizes. “The beauty of the lawn is the result of repeated watering, fertilizing and mowing. “Think of what your yard would look like without routine maintenance.

    “The paint and interior on your aircraft is no different,” he concludes.

    Nate Klenke is Duncan Aviation's Modifications & Design Sales Manager

    Nate has more than 25 years of knowledge and experience in design, aircraft paint, interior completions and modifications, and fabrication.

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