Aircraft doctors: Non-Destructive testing keep aircraft flying, crews safe

  • Published
  • By Joseph Mather
  • Robins Public Affairs

When we’re sick we go to the doctor for a diagnosis but where do aircraft go for unseen issues? Aircraft at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia go to the 558th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron non-destructive inspection office with the 402nd Maintenance Group for their diagnosis.

“Each aircraft arriving to Robins Air Force Base for depot level maintenance is in-processed to the base and receives a package describing the type of work to be completed on that aircraft,” said Vincent Jernigan, 558th Air Maintenance Squadron Non-destructive tester inspector. “Each package has an entire section of NDI testing that has to be performed to each particular weapon system.”

Once the aircraft is ready the NDI team is called.

“Metaphorically when people ask me what I do, I say it is like when you go to the doctor,” said Broderick Henry, 558th AMXS Non-Destructive tester inspector. “The doctor might run tests like what we do on the aircraft here. The doctor might inject a dye in you - that is the liquid penetrant we use on aircraft. When they put you in a MRI - that is our mag particle. When they do an x-ray or an ultrasound - we do all that. We are the doctors of the aircraft.”

The various tests pinpoint damage to be repaired.

“The NDI process gives exact location information of a defect to engineers and maintenance workers with minimal invasiveness to the aircraft,” said Henry.

Like visiting a doctor’s office, the NDI team use various procedures to provide information to engineers and maintenance workers.

“We provide that information by using five disciplines and through instrumentation,” said Henry.  “The five disciplines are liquid penetrant, mag particle, eddy current, ultrasound and x-rays.”

Each one of these disciplines provide instant feedback to the NDI tester.

“It may take the procedure a couple of days for us to complete start to finish,” said Henry. “It varies due to the inspection being used, but all of our procedures provide instant feedback.”

The NDI process provides essential information needed on each aircrafts depot level maintenance process.

“We give structural information in terms of structural integrity of the aircraft,” said Henry. “We provide information back to anyone who needs it in order to minimize the breaking down of the aircraft that come here for scheduled maintenance.”

The aircraft receiving depot level maintenance benefit from the NDI process.

“It prolongs the life of the aircraft performing NDI’s with all the methods we have, and it keeps the people and aircrew who operate the aircraft safe,” said Jernigan.

The NDI process is vital to the Air Force sustainment mission.

“It is necessary because it reduces cost, it gives the warfighter a sense of security, and it gives data that is tracked with the aircraft,” said Henry.

The NDI team members are devoted to their mission

“I know it is part of my life legacy and I am devoted to making those aircraft fly,” said Henry.

Jernigan agreed.

“I work on F-15 mostly,” he said. “I love the F-15 and when I see that aircraft take off, I’m a happy camper. I feel good because I know I worked on that plane.”