Finding potential mishaps before they happen: NDI Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. — Gloved hands pull a vital aircraft component from glowing, toxic pools of chemically-laced liquid designed to reveal otherwise unseen dangers.  

A nondestructive inspection Airman searches for cracks capable of taking down an aircraft by analyzing the suspect piece with eyes specially trained for the job.

Airmen from the 19th Maintenance Squadron NDI shop perform aircraft integrity checks, at set intervals and upon request, using liquids and a variety of other methods to assist them in seeing cracks and additional imperfections in aircraft parts.

“NDI’s mission is to test aircraft and aircraft parts for integrity purposes and structural health,” said Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th MXS nondestructive inspection journeyman. “We deal with a lot of minute problems; if you mess up, a lot can go wrong. If you miss a crack, it can keep expanding, and a wing can fall off.”

NDI Airmen operate equipment to see cracks imperceptible to the naked eye — cracks as small as one-tenth of an inch. They scan the aircraft for faulty elements, with some items located inside the aircraft.

“We work with engineers to figure out which parts of the plane need to be scanned,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Hayes, 19th MXS assistant NCO in charge of nondestructive inspection shop. “We do a little bit of everything to verify the integrity of the materials we scan.”

This verification process involves using scanning techniques such as ultrasonic waves, fluorescent penetrant, magnetic particle inspection, radiography and eddy current. NDI Airmen scan more than 2,000 parts a year using these techniques.

NDI Airmen are responsible for intensely searching for naturally occurring dangers on aircraft from the 19th Airlift Wing, 314th Airlift Wing, 189th Airlift Wing and transient aircraft.

Harsh chemicals, electric currents, sound waves or even x-rays are exercised regularly to ensure the structural integrity and health of aircraft. NDI Airmen implement these techniques to keep the Little Rock aircraft safe, flying and mission-ready at all times.