Cleaning Airplane (and Helicopter) Windows
by Philip Greenspun in February 2006
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Airplane windows and helicopter bubbles are just like the windows in
your house... except that they scratch 100 times as easily and cost 100
times as much. I wish that students would ask "How do I clean an
airplane window?" or "How do I clean a helicopter bubble?" but instead
they invariably grab a dry paper towel, one of the most abrasive devices
on the planet, and rub the grit into the $5,000 bubble or $1,000 window.
Glass is heavy. Airplanes need to be light. Thus, airplane windows are
made of acrylic, popularly known as Plexiglas or "plastic." Plastic
scratches much more easily than glass, which is why new airplane owners
and renter pilots need to be educated.
Here are the steps:
Some FBOs have specially formulated disposable paper wipes for cleaning
Plexiglas and these are probably okay, but cotton is better.
- Pour at least an entire bucket of water over the canopy, bubble, or
window to remove surface grit. Alternatively, hose off the grit.
- Wipe lightly with 100-percent cotton cloth to dry and remove lightly
attached dirt. Use up-down/left-right motions of the cloth, never
circular motions, which create scratches that generate a lot of glare.
- Spray with Plexus
- Wipe with a dry 100-percent cotton cloth, again being careful not to
make circular motions
- Fly away without getting the last few small spots; you'll do more
damage to the Plexiglas than it is worth to have a perfectly clean
helicopter bubble, airplane canopy, or side window
Text and photos Copyright 1994-2006 Philip