Chris Hunt uses tiny plastic beads to strip a small plane of its paint. The paint is being removed simultaneously from metal and composite.

A Jetstrip worker was busy in a sealed building next door, stripping a 1969 Ford Mustang of all its paint, but the top brass in the office didn’t want to focus on that.

“We do lots of things, not just cars,” said Jim Besinger, president of Jetstrip, a depainting specialist in Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.

“Nobody can strip paint like we can,” he said proudly, saying the firm’s main business is with aircraft, both civilian and military. Jetstrip also strips mechanical parts and, of course, cars.

One advantage that the company has is location. With Gateway Airport next door, planes can be flown in and worked on quickly. Jetstrip’s website, jetstripinc.com, even features a video of a plane arriving, being worked on and flying out.

“It was a T-38 from up north, from Oregon,” Besinger said. “Usually, it takes upwards of a month to do. We did it in four days. They fly in and fly out.”

Currently, Jetstrip has contracts to strip paint with Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and even NASA, among others.

Actually, the industry doesn’t really like to say “strip” anymore for what it does.

“Now, it’s depainting, but it’s no difference,” said General Manager Chris Hunt. “It’s just the same difference between a secretary and an administrative assistant.”

Jetstrip’s unusual business is built on a method called dry stripping, but it doesn’t use sand. Tiny plastic beads are used to take off paint and primer without damaging the metal or composite material underneath.

The company’s competitors use other media like sand, walnut shells and even dry ice. But those are more abrasive, and those competitors often have to touch up damage to their projects.

“There are probably 10 different methods used in the industry,” Hunt said. “But they all create heat, which warps and scratches. You don’t want good metal scratched.

“When we strip an aircraft, we can be very precise. There’s a film put on before paint, called Alodine. We can strip the paint and primer and leave the Alodine.

“It’s a surgical removal,” he added.

The hangar that Jetstrip uses is sealed, so nothing gets out, and most of the plastic beads are even recycled and reused.

When the beads are finally spent, they are sent back to a manufacturer in Ohio and melted down, to be used again to build furniture and building blocks. That eco-friendliness is one of the reasons Besinger first got involved with the business three years ago.

“We put nothing in the atmosphere or the ground. Nothing at all,” he said.

Another reason he came to Jetstrip is the top-notch personnel, like Hunt.

Hunt has been in charge of the work since 1996. He’s an Air Force vet who served in Vietnam. He used to be a crew chief in the Air Force and worked on a variety of airplanes, including F-4s, T-33s and B-66s. Besinger cites Hunt’s deep knowledge as one of the company’s strongest assets.

“We’re glad he’s here,” he said.

The Jetstrip site was built by the Air Force back in the old Williams Air Force Base days. It was intended to strip old F-16s. Because of that, the facility is “top-notch, state of the art,” Besinger said.

The military left in 1993 and the site was taken over by a private business. Now, Jetstrip is a tiny business, with Besinger, Hunt and Joseph Martinez full time, and Billy Gonzales part time. All four spend time doing the dirty work.

“There’s 50 years of blasting experience with these three guys,” Besinger said. “I was just stripping out there right now. You have to do it to learn. It’s like skiing!”

For now, Besinger is busy growing his business and looking for new opportunities.

“My focus for now is aeronautics parts, planes, etc.,” Besinger said. He gestured out to the ’69 Mustang in the hangar next door. “This will fill in the gaps.”

He added, “I want to do more cars. I want to get into the hot-rod industry. But the aircraft is where the money is at. That’s where we are.”

– Contact Ralph Zubiate at 480-898-6825 or rzubiate@timespublications.com.

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