Nondestructive inspection: Doctors of maintenance

Like a radiologist who can see fractures without using a scalpel, there are Airmen who can find deficiencies in the B-52 Stratofortress’ bones to proactively ensure the aircraft’s structural integrity.

Experts from nondestructive inspection, a shop within the 2nd Maintenance Squadron Fabrication Flight, interpret and evaluate aircraft or equipment defects the visual eye can’t see without dismantling the whole component.

“NDI has six groups of methods we use to look for surface and subsurface defects in aircraft or equipment parts,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Martinez, the 2nd MXS nondestructive inspection assistant NCO in charge.

NDI uses methods including liquid penetrant, magnetic particle, eddy current, ultrasonic and X-ray to interpret and evaluate defects. They also inspect aircraft engine oil to identify contaminations.

“Every 150 hours, the crew chiefs pull an engine oil sample and bring it to us to test for wear metals inside the compartment,” Martinez said.

The detections from NDI are cost-effective, save time and prevent serious damage to the aircraft.

“We are a preventive maintenance because we catch a defect before it can cause any catastrophic failure in the sky or on the ground,” Martinez said. “Through our inspections, we save the Air Force a lot of money by prolonging the life of the part instead of replacing it.”

Airman 1st Class Danielle Harrington, a 2nd MXS NDI apprentice, said she would consider NDI technicians to be the doctors of maintenance.

“If we find a crack in the wing before it grows to a certain extent, we save the engine from falling off the aircraft,” Harrington said.

After utilizing various inspection methods, NDI notes the status, sends the part to the appropriate shop to be repaired and conducts a final inspection before it is returned to operational status. There is no room for error in this shop.

“We are hard on all of our young Airmen about how important it is to pay attention to detail,” Martinez said. “Potential for catastrophic failure is high. If we miss something, the lives of the pilot and aircrew could be at stake.”

As the mission weighs heavily upon the shoulders of the B-52, it is crucial for NDI to detect flaws in the aircraft early in order for it to provide decisive nuclear deterrence and conventional firepower anywhere, anytime.

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