AIRSTREAM RENOVATION: Installing the shiny new Belly Pan

Needless to say, I am super stoked to finally get to this point and start putting stuff back on to the Airstream!

It seams like it's been a long time since we started the renovation on our '87 Airstream Excella and it feels so good to finally be putting her back together. Parker and Emery like to help as much as they can, (which hasn't been very much yet with the type of work being done so far), but they were able to help me brush up the inside of the rear bumper to get all the corrosion off. (And don't worry I had them put on masks after I took this photo)

Now that the frame is fully restored and in tip top shape, the first thing to go back on is the belly pan. At least most of it.

I'll being doing the "side wraps" of the belly pan after we get the shell all riveted on, for now I just need to get belly pan that goes down the center the frame. I need to put this on before the tanks and tank pans, because the tank pans install on top of the belly pan for easy removal of the tanks. (god forbid they ever need to be removed)

Installing the belly pan will also allow me to get the insulation installed under the subfloor, as the belly pan is what holds it all in.

The belly pan aluminum Airstream used is the .025 5052 H32 which I ordered from On our frame the middle section of the frame is 60" wide. Unfortunately the max width of the aluminum role was 48" so I had to order enough length to cut down into 60" x 48" sections, which worked well enough and it would have been extremely difficult to work with longer pieces of aluminum anyway.

Riveting in aluminum sheets on an Airstream requires a few uncommon tools, all of which I ordered from, aside from the rivet gun.

Tools used: 

Cutting and installing the aluminum sheets

First I measure and cut the roll of aluminum. The belly pan aluminum is pretty thin to keep it lightweight, so it's not difficult to cut. Still, I employed the help of electric shears to ensure a nice clean cut.

Since I have to drill and rivet a 60"x48" sheet of floppy aluminum to the underside of the frame, I'll need some help holding it up. I took one of the 4x4 pieces of plywood I had lying around, stuck it on the car jack and used that to hold the aluminum sheet in the right place. This was great because it held it nice and tight and kept it from shifting until I was able to drill holes and place clecos along one whole side of the sheet.

So when riveting a sheet in place, you don't to just drill a hole and place a rivet, and drill another hole and place another rivet and so on. You use Clecos, which are basically rivet placeholders. You drill your first hole, place a cleco. drill your next hole and place a cleco in it. This allows you to work slowly and insure that the sheet doesn't shift on you as much as you go along. then once you have all your holes drilled you can remove the clecos one at a time and replace them with rivets.

This process is much easier to type out on the computer than it was to actually do it while laying on my back in the gravel and reaching up to drill, cleco, remove cleco, rivet, rinse, repeat....

For the belly pan you want to use the 5/32 rivets with the large flange. This gives you a bit bigger grip on the aluminum since the weight of it is sitting directly on the flange.

The very first rivet to be reinstalled in Serenity!

Parker also had a lot of fun operating the rivet gun, and Emery helped out by loading a cleco in the cleco pliers and handing it to me.

One thing I messed up on when installing the first sheet is not starting the clecos and finishing on one side and the moving to accross evenly to the other side so that it laid down perfectly flat. I ended up with some warping in that sheet but not too bad. (I am not too sure how to describe this well, but watch the video for a better explanation)

I also got a freshly painted spare tire holder installed before I covered the area with an aluminum sheet. On our trailer, the front most sheet of the belly pan actually goes on top of the frame, as the area underneath it is the spare tire storage.

But that's pretty much all there is to this process! A huge shoulder workout to be sure.

Next up, I need to make some repairs to the tanks and tank pans (looks like mistakes were made and someone hit a rock...)

About the Author
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Ben Figueiredo

I make a living as a filmmaker & Website Designer, Telling Stories, creating content for businesses, entrepreneurs and even couples getting married. As a Five on the Enneagram, I love learning. Absorbing as much knowledge I can. I am into Biohacking, holistic wellness, and Rewilding so that I can be the best version of me to enjoy life with my family connecting with nature, our community, and God.

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