Story and photos by Airman 1st Class Kevin Sommer Giron,
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Chemical tanks, conveyer belts and intricate machines line the walls of the 19th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspections shop.
The lights are turned off as one ultraviolet light shines a new spectrum of colors to an NDI technician.
Shades of purple, blue and neon-green light up the dark as the Airman searches for what the naked eye can’t see.
Just as a special investigator uses black lights searching for clues, NDI Airmen use them to identify potential cracks in a variety of aircraft parts.
“We specialize in preventative maintenance,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Derik Shannon, 19th MXS NDI craftsman. “We use noninvasive ways to inspect aircraft for defects.”
NDI Airmen stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, use five methods to detect discrepancies: magnetic particle, fluorescent penetrant, X-ray, ultrasonic and eddy current.
Each method uses a distinct technique to safeguard a C-130J’s structural integrity.
Two procedures unique to the NDI shop are magnetic particle and fluorescent penetrant which use fluorescent liquid, and ultraviolet lighting to illuminate small structural flaws.
X-ray and ultrasonic are two other methods that enable NDI Airmen to inspect the structural inside of any part without disassembling it completely, using radiation and sound energy.
Eddy current, the most common method, consists of infusing electricity into an object creating an opposing magnetic field. Interruptions found within the field are identified as cracks and marked.
This enables the NDI team to perform inspections in their shop and on the flight line.
“Last week, we inspected the entire exterior of a C-130J for hail damage,” Shannon said. “Using an eddy current probe, we combed over it in what was expected to be a 48-hour inspection that we finished in eight hours.”
The NDI team has five methods at their disposal. Every technique is a sure-fire way to identify even the smallest crack before it becomes a major problem.
“We do the small stuff to keep the big aircraft flying, making sure every little piece is intact,” said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class James Schwein, 19th MXS NDI journeyman.
The NDI shop inspects approximately 3,000 parts annually. Even down to an aircraft’s smallest bolt, the shop’s ultimate goal is to keep the aircrew safe and the C-130J in flight to provide combat capabilities across the globe.