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Duncan commissions one of a kind paint job
Artist Derek DeYoung had done a ton of crazy projects over the years, but nothing like this beautiful interpretation of a Northern Pike for Duncan Aviation’s eye-catching company-owned Pilatus PC-12.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, its a fish - Duncan Aviation's PC-12 has the aspect of a Northern Pike.

Duncan Aviation’s newest company-owned aircraft, a Pilatus PC-12, has been brought to life with interior and exterior designs that represent the passion chairman Todd Duncan has for fishing and the outdoors.

Duncan Aviation commissioned a one-of-a-kind design from artist Derek DeYoung. The interior has a Western Nebraska feel that is highlighted by natural colours and leathers, unique stitching, hydrographics, bold pops of colour and an all-new Garmin flight deck.

At Todd Duncan’s request, aircraft sales and acquisitions sales rep Leah Alexander acquired a 10-year-old Pilatus PC-12 early in 2023 and immediately added the aircraft to the company’s flight department.

“With the understanding that any aircraft would also be placed in our fleet in support of the company’s operations, I performed detailed mission and budget analyses based on our flight department’s actual trips and compared a number of models,” says Alexander. “A Colorado-based dealer who knew we were seriously looking for a PC-12/47 with a great pedigree brought this one to our attention before it was going to be openly marketed for sale. This aircraft truly ticked all of the boxes, and the transaction itself went incredibly smoothly, in no small part because of the combined efforts of different teams across the company.”

The PC-12 was a well-used aircraft that had more than 4,000 hours total time and needed avionics modifications and upgrades, heavy maintenance, new paint and a new interior. Duncan knew the bar was high, and it would be difficult to match the popular and easily recognised paint schemes on the other company-owned aircraft.

“I tell people who have seen the one-off paintwork on our company-owned aircraft that they are really the responsibility of my mother and father,” he says. “This one was on me. I knew I had a high bar to match, and it was going to be difficult. I leaned heavily on my dad for advice throughout the entire process.”

Duncan has always had a passion for fishing and the outdoors. He has especially fond memories of when his dad would take him fishing in Canada: “I was hooked as a little kid. I’ve done it ever since I was little. I love taking my friends and family with me just like my dad did with him; it is just something I love doing.”

When asked to describe the paint scheme, Duncan said it is an interpretation of what fishing is: “It’s not a literal fish, it’s the experience. To me, it is about the experience you get when you go fishing, whether it’s a pond here in Nebraska or somewhere more exotic. You load up all your equipment, grab the fellas and go. That’s what this thing was built for, and I’m just so excited to take this all over the world.

“I had always admired Derek DeYoung’s work. He’s a famous artist in the fishing world and I noticed his work years ago. We tracked him down and encouraged him to design a paint scheme for this aircraft.”

Aircraft sales and acquisitions sales rep Robert Suarez contacted DeYoung, explained the situation and asked if he would be interested. “I said ‘heck yeah, who wouldn’t want to design a paint scheme for an airplane?’” recalls DeYoung. “I’m excited to work with anyone who comes to me with a great attitude and realistic expectation of my time. We were able to come up with a plan and make it happen. I’ve done a ton of crazy, weird projects over the years, but nothing like this. To work with an actual paint department was pretty cool.”

DeYoung said the first thing Duncan told him was that he loves going up to Canada, and that they take the plane on a lot of fishing trips. He also said he was looking forward to landing the aircraft up there and seeing people’s reactions. Duncan had told DeYoung that he’s a freshwater lake kind of guy and loves the Northern Pike, Muskie and Walleye. He wanted to look at the aircraft and be reminded of a freshwater fish.

DeYoung presented Duncan with four separate designs. After a back and forth about the technicality of painting an aircraft with these exquisite designs, and questioning if it could actually be done and how it would look, they decided on a design that closely reflects the Northern Pike and matches Duncan’s initial vision of landing the plane in Canada.

“Northern Pike are moss green with ivory-coloured oval spots,” explains DeYoung. “I don’t just glance at fish. I try to find nuances and colours that maybe not every Pike has. A fish’s colours and patterns change with the lighting. Things can happen like a hologram and different colours show up purely based on the way you look at them. I knew the plane was something that we couldn’t go way complex on, based on the limitations. But I couldn’t just do a moss green plane with ivory oval spots; that was not an option.”

The final design has an iridescent purple nose that fades into green with ivory spots that turn warm yellow toward the belly of the aircraft. To come up with the design, De Young took a schematic of the plane on his iPad and digitally painted the aircraft. The 2D design suggested how it would look, and the paint department had to decipher how it would look in 3D. Derek said the final product was as close as you could get with the type of application they were doing.

“I can’t wait to see Todd’s reaction the first time he touches down in Canada for his fishing trip. That’s when it will become apparent what he’s done,” says DeYoung.

Paint layout technician Stacy Finch and paint crew leader Trevor Reinke were ready for anything Todd could throw at them. “This was different from anything we’ve ever done,” explains Reinke. “A lot of the projects we work on are cut and dried. This was a little more than that, and we never had any doubts. The hardest part was getting started, so from there, we got to work.”

After receiving the artist’s renderings, Finch came up with his own version of the design with the shapes that would fit the aircraft to scale and made stencils that he could cut out. He also heavily researched the artist’s work. A challenge with this paint scheme was getting the blends and fades the way they were intended while trying to keep the correct shapes and the artist’s concept true. “All of the shapes were faded on the edges, so we had to find a way to make the shapes and soften the edges as we went,” Finch says. To get those soft edges, the team outlined the shapes with foam tubing. “It was a simple solution and worked exactly as we expected,” says Finch.

They both said there was a lot of preparation that went into this job beforehand, and it was rewarding to know that Todd had full confidence in them. Finch adds: "It made everyone on the team feel good about themselves and the work they do. Everyone communicated well and had the same vision, so it was no surprise we pulled this off."

Reinke says he is very proud of the team: "They got the final result. It was great to see Todd that excited. When he walked through the door to see the plane for the first time, he was either going to love it or he wasn't. And, he did."

The aircraft featured 16 formulated colours. All were pearls, three of which were tri-coats. There are also about six to eight more colours that were blended together to help create some of the transitions and high- and low-light areas.

Duncan said what really got him excited about this project was when he saw some of the Duncan Aviation paint team look at him and say: "You know. We can do this. We can pull this off, and it'll be fantastic." He specifically remembers paint team leader Brandon Boyer looking at him and saying that they can make this scheme happen, and it will be absolutely beautiful.

"It was a real team effort, and they stood behind their word," says Duncan. "They pulled it off. Having the creative talent behind you and the ability to do something different is the most fun a guy can have."

Duncan never intended for the exterior paint scheme to be replicated in the interior. He thought it should be separate in the way it looks and feels. Inside the aircraft, he was shooting for a Western Nebraska feel with natural colours and leathers, with a small hint of the exterior scheme. The interior is highlighted by unique stitching, hydrographics and a few Easter eggs. The interior gives a homey feel that is elegant, bold, and custom. Designer Jaime Blanken describes the cabin as cozy, yet modern and sophisticated, with bold pops of colour on the conference tables and contrast stitching on the seats.

The seats are the highlight of the interior. The front four seats are a lighter, two-tone Torino Lakestone and Torino Appalachian colour with contrasting purple double-stitching. The back two seats are a dark, single-tone Torino Appalachian colour with orange single-stitching. The coloured stitching is a way to bring just a dab of colour into the interior of the aircraft through the exterior paint colours. The combination within the seats with different leather colours, stitching colours and sizes, and unique quilting on the centrepiece inserts give them a distinctive look that you won't find anywhere else.

All of the cabinetry and drinkrails were created through a hydrographics process with a carbon fibre pattern that is the same colour as the leather seats in the flight deck. The light-coloured pattern opens up the interior and helps it feel more inviting. The inserts in the conference table are Copper Sheets that have a Dark Distressed Patina pattern and add a pop of colour.

The seat backs were also hydrodipped, which is a first for Duncan Aviation. "Since the seat backs are plastic, we were able to dip them and create a cohesive, unexpected touch," says Blanken. "We also included a small Duncan Aviation logo on the back of the front four seats in a Purple Pearl to match the stitching when the sun hits it just right. The two back seats have an orange logo to coordinate with the orange stitching."

Upholstery master specialist Tom Dirkschneider says this is the first time he's done anything with applying hydrographics to a chair: "They were in pretty rough condition when they came to us. They look so good now, it's unreal how far they've come. The hydrodipping is just another step up that gives the customer a good, high-quality product."

After receiving the drawings for the seats, Dirkschneider marked out the lines and where the stitching would go, then transferred those marks onto vinyl to create the patterns. He checked the width to 1/16th of an inch to ensure the sizes were correct and blended well. Between the backrest, the seat cushion, headrests and leg rests, there were over 60 patterns to make all the different parts of the chair.

The purple double-stitching on the front four seats was stitched using a special sewing machine, but the rest of the stitching, aside from the quilted inserts, was hand-sewn by the Duncan Aviation team in Lincoln.

Utilising the new CNC quilting machine Duncan Aviation has at its Battle Creek, Michigan location, custom diamond-patterned quilted inserts were crafted to add texture and focus to the seat design. The finesse it takes to maintain stitch tolerance within one millimetre displays the dedication to quality Duncan's upholstery shops have always maintained. These inserts showcase the technological advances Duncan Aviation is utilising to provide not only the highest quality in the industry, but also the refinement of current seat designs.

The carpet was kept simple to allow the rest of the interior to shine. It is an Acousticord carpet that is normally only used for flight deck and baggage areas because it wears so well. All of the materials in the aircraft are durable and are able to be easily wiped down and cleaned after every trip.

The lower sidewalls feature orange and purple wool fabric that brings in more colour to contrast the rest of the cabin.

A team at Duncan Aviation's satellite shop in Denver, Colorado, outfitted the Pilatus' flight deck with all new Garmin systems. The avionics upgrades provide the Pilatus pilots with more information, greater redundancies and additional safety features. The flight deck also features a new instrument panel, fabricated by Nimbus Aviation.

The upgrade provided a significant weight savings over the old systems and wires. "We weighed everything, including the wires, and by adding the new equipment, the Pilatus is now 162.23 pounds lighter," says Edduyn Pita, manager of the Denver satellite.

The team in Denver removed all of the original avionics and wiring, and replaced it with a G600TXi. They installed a dual GTN 750XI, providing GPS Com Nav/Radar Indicator; the GFC600, an all-digital Autopilot; the GWX75 Radar system, and the GI275 Standby Instrument, which provides backup power in the event of an electrical malfunction. The Denver team also added USB outlets that connect to the GI275 for software updates. The pilots can also use the USB outlets to charge and power their tablets.

"I'm really proud of my team. They did a great job on the Pilatus," says Pita. "The aircraft arrived with no interior. Three technicians from Lincoln accompanied the Pilatus and they helped with defuelling. In order to calibrate the new Engine Indication System, the plane had to be defuelled first."

Pita and his team then began the painstaking process of finding and removing unused wires. They pre-made the wiring and harnesses the new equipment would need before the Pilatus arrived, saving the team two weeks of downtime. Among the many wires they installed were wires for AirText, a text-only system. Pilots and passengers will be able to send and receive texts, and the cabin now includes two USB outlets for charging, too.

Before any of the paint, interior and avionics could happen, however, the aircraft needed maintenance work. Because Duncan Aviation is not authorised to perform maintenance work on Pilatus aircraft, the aircraft needed to be taken to KCAC Aviation in Olathe, Kansas, where it received its annual inspection and numerous repairs.

This aircraft highlights all the different artisans who work at Duncan Aviation. From the shop in Denver, to the paint team, interior team and everyone else involved, an enormous amount of work went into this project and well over 100 team members played a role in the transformation.

"I absolutely love it," says Duncan. "You don't really know what kind of fish, or if it's even a fish. I love that about it. This is something that is unique to me. This is next-level and a lot of fun to be able to represent Duncan Aviation in."

Duncan credits his mum and dad, and their passion for unique things and their love of contemporary art. "They gave me the ability to be creative and have fun," he says. "I can't even imagine my Grandpa Donald's reaction. He'd absolutely love it and be enormously proud of us all. But he'd be real interested as to where the story of Duncan Aviation is going in the next 10, 20 and 30 years too.

"For me, this was a heck of a lot of fun. We will have this aircraft for years to come, and we recognise the hundreds of team members who worked on the aircraft and turned a vision into reality. It's just incredible."

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