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NDI: Aircraft doctors

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Eboni Reece
  • 27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
It is crucial for transient aircraft to maintain excellent physical condition as it is for the air crews that fly them in order to perform successful missions. Just as one would rely on medical professionals to perform analysis and identify the cause of ailments, aircraft maintainers depend on nondestructive inspection specialists to detect discontinuities within aircraft structures and recommend corrective actions.

Nondestructive inspection laboratory specialists with the 27th Special Operations Maintenance Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., have a mission to provide optimum support to the structural maintenance program through various inspections and analysis without causing damage.

"They call us aircraft doctors," said Tech. Sgt. Steven Vitale, 27 SOMXS NDI laboratory NCO in charge. "We use X-rays, ultrasonic test equipment and fluid analysis to detect flaws in aircraft structures or components; similar to what is done in medical career fields."

The NDI laboratory flight at Cannon is comprised of 20 Air Commandos in a shop that operates 24 hours a day to guarantee defects in Cannon's aircraft fleet are not overlooked. Deficiencies within aerospace weapon systems and equipment are detected using a variety of assessments: eddy current and liquid penetrant analysis, radiographic assessment, magnetic-particle and ultrasonic testing, oil and fluid analysis and remote visual inspection.

"As NDI lab specialists, there are several things we do that no other career field does," he said. "We use fluorescent black lights to check for surface cracks on the equipment, which is definitely the most attention-grabbing part of our job."

The Air Force Special Operations Command mission allows NDI laboratory specialists to support other branches of service by assisting with their aircraft inspections.

"While I was deployed, we helped a Marine unit recover a screwdriver that was misplaced inside their EA-6 Prowler," Vitale said. "With our X-ray capabilities, we were able to locate the tool inside the tail of the aircraft so that it could be removed."

Methods used by 27 SOMXS NDI laboratory specialists help save money and time in product evaluation, troubleshooting and research as the techniques do not permanently alter any component being inspected.

"The NDI lab is essential to AFSOC, the Air Force and the overall mission because our small flight supports the entire 27th Special Operations Maintenance Group and thus, every flying squadron at this base," added Vitale. "The tests we perform to detect flaws aid in decisions to make an element non-serviceable or even ground an aircraft."