Non-destructive Inspection: The Doctors of Maintenance

By Staff Sgt. Stefanie Torres

51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea - Remaining in good health is important not just for the Airmen but also for the jets stationed at Osan Air Base - neither are strangers to long days and a high operations tempo.

And just as medical staff perform health check-ups, the 20 Airmen of the 51st Maintenance Squadron Non-destructive Inspection flight work 24 hours a day to ensure defects on the jets don't go unnoticed. One missed crack or void in the aircraft could stand in the way of a pilot completing the mission.

The flight uses multiple machines and techniques to detect what is invisible to the naked eye, explained Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Green, 51st MXS NDI craftsman. Using eddy current, magnetic particle, radiographic, and ultrasonic test equipment, along with liquid penetrant, and X-ray, the team can look for small cracks and defects that could mean the difference between life and death. 

The main aspect of the job is preventative, trends to determine which metals tend to wear down faster than others, explained Green. 

"We work on different engine components, like bearings with iron and aluminum," Green said. "Certain metals will degrade faster than others."

Starting with brand new engines, NDI can track trends from the beginning. With the F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt II's constantly in the air, wear and tear is inevitable.

"If we have had a brand new engine, we are able to watch that engine break itself down, and then the engine shop will build it back up," he said. 

The shop also burns and ignites jet engine oil to detect various elements and determine if a defect exists.

"The Joint Oil Analysis Program is a big part of what we do here," Green said. "Whatever elements exist in the oil determine what color the oil will burn, and our machines will measure the content to help us decide if something is happening to the metal."

A unique function at Osan is operating closely with the Republic of Korea Air Force for their needs with wear metals.

"With the joint tasking, we can use our expertise for multiple aircraft, whether it be for the F-16, the A-10, or with the Koreans," Green said. "They bring down parts from different bases, and we use our expertise on those as well."

For Airmen like Airman 1st Class Myles Slepian, 51st MXS NDI apprentice, the joint training gives him that extra expertise and a sense of pride knowing his accomplishments make a difference in the Air Force.

"This job is important because if we miss a crack or any serviceability issues, there could be pilots in danger," he said.

Having Osan as his first assignment with only three weeks time on station also gives him a sense of what the Air Force is accomplishing overseas.

"This definitely makes me feel pretty important," he said. "I just got out of technical school and to be away from home for the first time is a big step. I was excited to get here and it gave me a sense of pride. I am looking forward to this next year."

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— USPACOM (posted July 11, 2012) —