Bruce Botterman is an atypical artist. The thickness of the canvas on which he works, aircraft windows and windshields, is measured in thousandths of an inch, and the success of his painstaking work is transparent, invisible to the human eye.
Digging into bins stacked in one of two 50-by-50-foot hangars at Wittman Regional Airport, he introduces victims of sight-robbing damage. Foreign object damage (FOD) caused this chip. Chemicals, like MEK, induce a milky blush. Particulates in the air abrade any surface assaulted by the slipstream.
Age and exposure evaporate the miniscule amount of moisture found in all acrylic compounds, which leads to micro cracks known as crazing. Pressure flexing exacerbates the problem, and most of his canvases are from pressurized aircraft, but not for the reason one might think.
Repairing this damage is a painstaking process that can take several hours, Botterman said, or several days. It depends on the extent, location, and depth of the damage. In many cases replacing rather than repairing a damaged window makes economic sense, but windows on pressurized airplanes are expensive. “Some of them run $30,000 or more.”
And then there is the labor it takes to remove and replace them. “A windshield for a Cessna Citation costs $12,000, and it takes 80 to 100 hours of labor to replace it because you almost have to remove the instrument panel to undo the fasteners,” he explained. Compared to this, his transparent artistry is a bargain.
Uniting artist and canvas builds on the savings. Most of his work arrives in a box without an airplane. But all of his tools and supplies fit in six cases that fit in his SUV. When he gets to the airplane, all ne needs is a source of compressed air and a work stand.
In one box are an optical and an ultrasound micrometers accurate to 10/1000 of an inch. The aircraft manuals provide the minimum allowable window thickness, so Botterman begins a repair by measuring the depth of the damage. “If I have a chip that’s 30/1ooo deep, and I can only remove 15/1000, the window is already condemned.”
Opening another case, he retrieves a color-coded selection of what one might call “sandpaper,” if their abrasive nature was not rated in microns—1 millionth of a meter. A fine 220-grit sandpaper is roughly 100 micron. Pointing the colored disks he employs with different size pneumatic random orbital sanders, or by hand, green is 30 microns, black is 15, blue is 6, and red is 3 microns.
In the United States there’s only one handful of FAA Repair Stations approved for window repair, Botterman said, and the work isn’t for everyone. Given a work area that’s only several thousandth’s deep, “it takes a ton of patience,” he said, adding, “I wouldn’t have done this work when I was 25.”
Originally from Arlington Heights, Illinois, Botterman started his aviation career at Rock County Tech in Janesville, Wisconsin, where he earned his airframe and powerplant (A&P) maintenance certificate in 1966, before it became the Blackhawk Technical College.
After working as a line mechanic on DC-6/7s and Boeing 727 for United Airlines at Chicago O’Hare, he joined some college friends working for an airfreight company in Janesville. He followed some of them to Oshkosh to maintain Basler Airline’s DC-3s.
Leaving Basler in the early 1970s, Botterman became service manager, then general manager and part owner, of MaxAir in Appleton. After selling his interest there, and working for Jack Mark in Oshkosh, there was the opportunity to buy Aviall’s window repair business, which was located in Texas. With his wife, Rae, who is NewView’s president, “we looked like the Clampett’s coming out of Dallas with our trailers. It was a nice start.”
For three years Botterman worked out of his home, until Wittman built the two 50-by-50-foot hangars NewView now occupies. “My wife said we had enough stuff to get out of the house,” he remembers.
“We didn’t offer maintenance and inspections at the time, [but] Fox Valley Tech was flying its airplanes off the airport for maintenance…and the dean asked if I was interested” in bidding on the contract. Today, Ken Stern handles the maintenance, assisted as needed by several part-time A&Ps. They perform maintenance and inspections on piston-powered aircraft, as well as pitot/static system tests and certifications. NewView also refills aircraft oxygen systems and portable bottles, and it has nitrogen to recharge struts and emergency blow-down bottles.
This arrangement works well because “I like the window work,” Botterman says. And he pays if forward with an annual presentation about window care, repair, and inspection to second-year A&P students at Fox Valley tech, and at FAA recertification seminars for A&Ps with an inspection authorization.