NDI: finding cracks in the system

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zeeshan Naeem
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Whether it’s a tiny crack unseen by the naked eye or a significant defect, non-destructive inspection specialists can identify and analyze damages in aircraft equipment and systems.

The 325th Maintenance Squadron’s NDI flight plays a crucial role in ensuring mission readiness at Tyndall by detecting even the most minute defects in equipment that could lead to a mishap. In case of aircraft mishap, NDI specialists are the first people to inspect damages using non-invasive techniques and diagnose any deficiencies. Any mistake in their duties can potentially cost millions of dollars or someone’s life.

NDI specialists use several methods, including applying fluorescent penetrant, ultrasonic gel and X-rays to locate defects in equipment. These methods ensure the inspection process can reveal microscopic faults inside or outside the parts without further damaging any of the equipment.

“One of the methods we use is fluorescent penetrant,” said Staff Sgt. Chelsea Pierce, 325th MXS NDI craftsman. “We dip fluorescent dye onto the part requiring inspection and if there is a discontinuity the dye will seep into the part. After letting the dye dwell, we wipe it off and put developer on it and proceed to wait until it settles. Once that process is complete, we inspect the part under a UV black light; if there’s a crack it will glow bright green.”

Pierce said it takes approximately an hour to complete the fluorescent dye inspection process. When the NDI team discovers a defect in a part, they record details regarding their findings and if salvageable, transfer the part to the 325th MXS metals technology shop for repair. Once the part is repaired it’s given back to the owner of the part and put back into service.

These inspections utilize a large variety of equipment and chemicals that require precise training to remain proficient at identifying the smallest of imperfections within Tyndall’s equipment inventory, which includes the F-35A Lightning II.

“We work with [simulated aircraft equipment] to practice for any situation in which our inspections are needed on an aircraft,” said Airman 1st Class Gwynavere Baarstad, 325th MXS NDI apprentice. “With the F-35A Lightning IIs being built so well, it’s almost too new to have any substantial damage, but if anything were to happen, we frequently practice to make sure we are properly trained to inspect and troubleshoot the parts.”

Baarstad compared NDI specialists to doctors, and explained they diagnose equipment with any deficiencies, revealing invisible damages to ensure the aircraft is in the best condition. In the case of a deployment, NDI specialists are prepared to inspect multiple airframes.

“For combat readiness, we prepare with six different inspection methods, [ultrasonic gel, eddy current, magnetic particle, fluorescent penetrant and X-ray]” explained Pierce. “If we deploy, we make sure all our equipment and chemicals are ready so that no matter what job pops up or where we’re at, we’ll be prepared.”

Since their job is to look for defects, any duty day when there are no damaged parts is a sigh of relief for NDI specialists. Baarstad stated knowing there are no defects on equipment provides a sense of security in knowing the aircraft and all its parts are safe.

“I love doing my job, we find tiny little cracks most people can’t even see and have a direct effect on mission operations,” said Pierce. “Our F-35s may only have one pilot but the risk factor is always something on our minds. Being able to do a job I love and helping keep people safe means a lot to me.”