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Old 08-30-2009, 11:55 AM   #1
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Question New to forum- Question- the last year Airstream used High aluminum content ( Alcoa ?)

Hello all, Looking for the newest year airstream that will take a mirror shine.
I do not care for the satin finish, no offense to those that do, just my taste (past life raven?)
It appears (from pictures, in particular the weathering differences ) Airstream has always used a different % aluminum composition metal for the end caps.
Possibly to take compound curves better?,
Would it have been the price that prevented Airstream from using the same end cap composition for the flat or single curve panels?
Maybe a lower % aluminum made for a stiffer panel ( = less framework, less bulging/pouching/truer surfaces?)
Whatever may be the reasons . If any of the kind people of this forum could steer me to information on metal formulations and gauges used through the years it would be very much appreciated
Thanks, Scott

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Old 08-30-2009, 05:04 PM   #2
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Hi Scott,

I don't know the answer to your question but i did want to welcome you the forum and give you a hearty 'HELLO'! I'm sure sombody will speak up soon about your question...

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Old 08-30-2009, 07:10 PM   #3
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I may be wrong, but I thought the only thing preventing one from polishing a late model Airstream to a mirror shine is the clearcoat finish. If you remove the clearcaot then you should be able to polish. Perhaps someone else will be able to confirm this.

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Old 08-30-2009, 07:50 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Excellin View Post
Hello all, Looking for the newest year airstream that will take a mirror shine.

Welcome to the forums!

The short answer to your question is 1982.

The long answer is a lot longer. I'll tell you what I can remember off the top of my head.

Airstreams have always been made of high-strength aircraft aluminum alloys, typically 2024-T3 (and I think) 6061-T6. If you remove the interior skins from the shell you will see the alloy designation roll-stamped on the inner surface of the outer shell.

Prior to 1982--and this is the important part--they were made of Alclad sheet, which consists of a core of the high-strength alloy faced with a cladding of .005" of pure aluminum. The reason for Alclad is that the alloys do not have the corrosion resistance that pure aluminum does. Early in the days of aluminum aircraft, the aluminum industry figured out that the corrosion problem could be largely eliminated with the thin coating of pure aluminum.

So far as I know the same alloy is used for the single-curved skins and the stretch-formed end shells. The reason that they weather and polish differently is that the stresses from the stretch forming affect the hardness of the aluminum.

The guy who can tell you all about this, Dale "PeeWee" Schwamborn, is an active member of the forums. (User name PeeWee) Among his other jobs at Airstream over the years was purchasing the aluminum. I don't remember whether his dissertation on the subject is on the internet or whether I heard it one of the times I heard him speak.

The gist of it is that when he was buying the aluminum that went into Airstreams, they bought the material for the single-curved skins from Alcoa but the stuff for the end shells from Kaiser. The Kaiser aluminum stretch formed better. They didn't know why, just that it did. (There's a lot of art to metal forming.)

The really neat secret that PeeWee revealed is that they bought a special grade of aluminum from Alcoa. The quality of the finish depended on how new the rollers were in the rolling mill. Right after Alcoa would replace the rollers they would make special "Boeing grade" aluminum sheet for Boeing. But they did make a little sheet aluminum for one other customer even before they made Boeing's--and that customer was Airstream!

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Old 08-30-2009, 08:46 PM   #5
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Thanks for the Wellcome !

Thanks for the big wellcome Steve, I was always fond of that movie . The campfire scene was milestone at the time, breaking/breaching more than cineamatic etiquette.
And to Carol, thanks as well, but from what I have read so far mid 82 was the begining of satin prefinished panels which different people claim are to deeply eched/ scrached to obtain a mirror finnish. Not that they can't be polished, most things can be polished to one degree or another even heads, thankfully I'm not there yet, maybe by the time I purchase and polish my next AS.

Thanks again, Scott
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Old 08-30-2009, 09:24 PM   #6
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Exterior skin Questions

Thanks, Nuvi
Trust a person with a polish handel to come up with the exact answer for that. Thanks so much! now I can continue my search for the next AS
Amazing that airstream was able to squeak in there before boeing and "apple pic" as they call it in the retail lumber industry. I guess we can thank or curse Mr. Dale "PeeWee" Schwamborn in part for the beauty of our Airstream's premium aluminium skins and the weeks and months of our lives it can take, or not, as one freely chooses of course, to maintain it to a mirror shine.
Thanks again, Scott

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