Lessons from Stripping…

Wing walk paint off the airplane wings!  We spent the majority of last week stripping 40 years of wing walk paint (a heavy black paint embedded with grit – and some strips of adhesive-backed grit embedded material) from the wings of the Tomahawk.  It needed to be done and it didn’t seem like it would be much of a job – just a little paint stripper and some elbow grease, right?  And a nice low impact recovery activity after the marathon last weekend.

We spent a minimum of 5 hours a day, from Monday through Saturday, investing in major upper body exercise!  Scraping, chipping, slathering on stripper, wrapping with plastic wrap…and repeating the process.  As with anything, we learned as we went, and improved our method each day.  I finally realized that a lighter touch and heavy dose of patience went as far (or farther) than brute force and “hurry up”.

I didn’t think to take before pictures – the lessons I was about to reflect on weren’t apparent then.  By the time we were down to bare metal – the lessons were abundant!

Wing walk is painted on the wing surface in front of the doors and is used to indicate a safe place to walk on the wing.  The grit provides traction on a very smooth surface.  Wing walk material is essentially a statement that says “I have boundaries – stay within them for your safety and mine.  This is where you can safely put your feet and I will tolerate it.”.  Do you have “wing walk” areas visible in your life?  For your safety (and health) and the safety of others?  Boundaries are a good thing.

We cleaned 40 years of assorted wing walk material off the wings.  It was close to ¼-inch thick in some places and thin in others.  It was worn, chipped and cracked, and faded to a light grey.  It still offered traction to the person climbing on the wing, and clearly delineated safe boundaries – but detracted from the clean, crisp red and white paint on the rest of the plan.  We learned that it is far better to remove the old stuff instead of repeatedly applying more product to cover up the damaged, unsightly mess that is already there.  How often in life do we just cover up and tolerate “stuff”?  Let it build up and weigh us down – and try to throw another layer of paint over it and make it look better?  Let people/circumstances walk off/wear down our boundaries until we just try to cover up the damage and push through?


As we reached bare metal, we could see previous scratches left, plus the ones we inadvertently created.  A little more elbow grease, and the metal was cleansed and prepped for the new coat.  Evidence that you can remove a whole lot of stuff, clean it all up, and start all over.  Your surfaces might not be unblemished, but they will be ready to accept cleaning, prepping, and a new coat of paint/courage/boundaries – much lighter (literally, I’m pretty sure we took off a couple pounds of material from the plane!) much cleaner, and much brighter.


We carefully masked off the area to be painted and applied two coats to the prepared surface.  What a contrast!  Crisp, clear, shiny boundaries – ready to be tested once the paint completely dries.

Boundaries.  Who do you set boundaries for?  Friends?  Family? Co-workers? Strangers? General public?  How about yourself?  Do you set boundaries for yourself?  What does your wing walk look like?  Is it time to set aside a week to strip off the old, prepare the structure, and apply shiny new paint?


When you set boundaries – how firm are they?  Do they vary depending on the person?  Who are you the most lax with?  I obviously had lots of time to consider boundaries this week.  One of my biggest areas of weakness is feeling guilty when I enforce my boundaries – often to the point of totally ignoring them.  On an airplane, you risk damage to the surface and sometimes the structural integrity of the plane by ignoring the wing walk boundary.


Grace Lesson:  Review your boundaries…

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