Today I removed, cleaned, and reinstalled a VistaVue Window. Someone had tried to “repair” the leaks in the window with about a gallon of silicon (only a slight exaggeration). Don’t EVER use silicon to “fix” leaks on an Airstream. It looks awful and is impossible to remove if you need to redo the seal. The only place you should use silicone is to adhere weather stripping gasket (around doors, windows, and hatches) and where glass is in direct contact with something (meaning, a window gasket). Instead of using silicone, use a polyurethane caulk. I really like TremPro 635. Parabond comes in a container that’s more like a toothpaste tube, so it might be easier to take with you for mobile repairs.
I drilled out all the bucked rivets, removed the tons and tons of silicon and other adhesives from the resulting hole in the Airstream as well as the window bracket (the aluminum around the glass), then I went the extra step and removed the bracket from the glass and cleaned the gasket that was in between the glass and aluminum frame. Getting the frame off of the glass can be tricky. There are actually metal pins in each channel where the two pieces of the frame come together in the center.
The bottom pins had rusted away completely from water sitting inside the window frame, but the top pins were still there (and very strong). I ended up prying the two frame pieces apart slightly with a chisel, then I cut the two pins with a Dremel cut-off wheel.
These pins will slide in their respective channels (though it’s hard to move them), so I ended up leaving them in place, then pushed them back over to function as they original did once I put the two pieces of aluminum frame back together. One half of each pin will still work even though they are shorter now from being cut. I thought about trying to get the second half of each pin out to use on the other side, but they are in there REALLY tightly and the small channels for the pins in the other side were too badly corroded to accommodate the pins anyway.
I used a brass wire brush (gentler than steel so it doesn’t deep-scratch and ruin the soft aluminum) to clean the big stuff off of the aluminum surfaces of the Airstream body and window frame, then mineral spirits and a rough rag to remove the smaller left over gunk. I used a razor blade to carefully remove silicone from the surface of the glass, then went over the glass with mineral spirits and a rough rag. I also found that if I was gentle I could use super fine (0000) steel wool to help get off the really tenacious stuff without scratching the glass.
I washed the gasket with warm, soapy water.
The gasket had hardened a bit on the lower side (where water and minerals had sat in the frame), but there was only one small split in the actual material, so I decided to reuse the gasket instead of ordering more and having to wait for it to arrive (VTS: 70’s Window Gasket). This also meant the gasket would be a single, continuous piece and already sized for the window so I didn’t need to worry about over stretching the gasket material.
I have read on other blogs that people have forgone the gasket and just set the glass inside the frame after applying liberal amounts of silicone, but I like that I don’t have to worry about the glass touching the metal frame, and the gasket gives it a firmer hold (it is tight in the frame channel).
After washing the gasket thoroughly and cleaning out the window frame channel with a brass wire brush and mineral spirits, I squeezed clear 3M Marine Silicone (purchased at the local big box store) into the gasket and slipped the gasket over the edge of the window glass. I then squeezed a liberal amount of the clear silicone into the two pieces of window frame and slid the two pieces of the aluminum frame over the glass and gasket.
You need to clamp the frame onto the glass while it dries. I used a ratched strap for the long axis, and cheap Harbor Freight grip clamps for the shorter axis.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of clamping the center of the frame too tight and ended up with a slightly “bow tie” shaped window frame; the added bonus here was that the center holes no longer lined up to the skin for riveting. What this means is that the corners of the frame are not snug against the glass, thus you shouldn’t try to make the center of the frame snug against the glass or you will end up with the bow tie like I did.
I solved the problem by using a clamp (reversed) to stretch out the center of the frame and am just crossing my fingers that the seal holds up (I re-siliconed the gaps where the gasket pulled away from the frame, but I’m hoping there was enough silicone in the channel that it wouldn’t have leaked anyway).
Butyl tape (that stuff is GREAT) was placed around the perimeter of the window frame before riveting the window back in place. I am leaving the butyl tape “squished out” for a while so it can shrink and expand in the sun, then I’ll trim it with a utility knife.
Hopefully the leaks are now banished forever! See the complete photo gallery from the job below.