A building filled with machinery that emits an eerie fluorescent glow, rooms that smell of burnt carbon and oil, and nearby test tubes filled with strange liquids and chemicals may seem like some type of mad scientist’s laboratory, but this is the environment of the 56th Equipment Maintenance Squadron Nondestructive Inspection shop.
NDI consists of using several techniques to check the structural integrity of aircraft components and ground equipment without impairing their future functionality. Using these techniques, they detect cracks and are able to make oil analysis, keeping the aircraft and equipment safe from potentially disastrous events.
“There are several critical components on the aircraft that could cause it to crash during takeoff, flight or as it is landing,” said Senior Airman Brian Burkett, 56th EMS NDI journeyman. “There are many different methods we use, including penetrant, magnetic, ultrasound, Eddy current and X-ray inspections. By identifying the cracks and malfunctions, we keep planes in the sky.”
The work done by NDI assists other maintainers in identifying potential problems before they become catastrophic.
“If we weren’t doing our jobs here, crew chiefs wouldn’t know what was damaged or cracked until it was bad enough for them to see visually,” Burkett said. “They wouldn’t be able to do their jobs.”
NDI even has the capability to check oils and fluids from aircraft to make sure there is no abnormal metals in it, an indicator of engine wear, said Doug Reeser, 56th EMS NDI technician. The F-16 oil is checked after every flight for materials inside the oil that could cause the engine to seize up or malfunction.
“Engine oil samples are burned to measure wear metal trends inside the aircraft by placing it on a stand for the joint oil analysis program,” Burkett said. “A rising trend can be an indicator of an internal problem.”
Whether finding cracks in parts before they grow or flagging excessive engine wear, NDI Airmen are critical to keeping jets ready for the sky so the pilots can fly.
“Our job is to find malfunctions while the part is inert instead of finding out it has malfunctioned in the air,” Reeser said. “It feels good to know you are helping make the aircraft structurally secure.”