NDI: Seeing the Unseen

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brittni Capozzi
  • 180th Fighter Wing

Just as doctors utilize x-rays, MRIs and CT scans to get an internal and closer look at what may be wrong with a patient when it’s not visible to the naked eye, the 180th Fighter Wing mimics the same process, but with its equipment. That’s where the Nondestructive Inspection (NDI) shop and NDI Specialists step in.

The NDI shop employs noninvasive techniques, on metal objects, to spot possible defects that may be too small for the human eye to see or may be deeper into the layers of the metal. The techniques the shop uses to inspect range from x-rays, ultrasound machines, fluorescent penetrant, magnetic particle, oil analysis, and eddy current. “Some cracks we won't be able to see from the surface, even if you use a magnifying glass, you wouldn't be able to see it because it’s underneath everything,” said NDI Specialist Airman 1st Class Graham Simpson, “but [the techniques] really help us clearly see what’s there instead of trying to decide whether or not there is an issue just off of our own eyes.”

When parts need to be looked at more deeply the NDI specialists are who the other maintenance shops turn for support. Having the technical skills to look at these parts in ways that others don’t have the ability to, insure that the members of the 180FW stay safe and continue to be mission ready. “It’s not just something someone can just pick up and do,” said Simpson “say metal shop has a question about a piece of equipment in terms of there looks like there might be a crack or looks like it has a defect, we can scan it and make sure that there’s nothing there…instead of just kind of guessing, so we just make sure everythings good to go.”

The shop see’s a variety of equipment coming in for inspections. “We can do any work from bolts to support equipment,” said Simpson, “since I’m Drill Status Guard it changes from time to time, I don’t really see the same thing a lot every month so it keeps it interesting.”

Airman 1st Class Simpson, who has been an NDI Specialist for two years, is always putting his skills to the test. He never knows what’s going to be coming into the shop for an inspection next. With items coming in at any point of the day, his skills are able to stay current and sharp. “I get to use them, all my skills, all the time, so that's kind of my favorite thing about [being an NDI specialist],” said Simpson

Simpson has always been drawn to science and found those classes the most enjoyable in school. When he saw the job description for the NDI specialist he knew that was what he wanted to do. After learning the techniques while in technical training he was able to find one that really sparked his interest. “I think my favorite was eddy current, which is a surface probe that uses a magnetic field to help find cracks. When you scan it over the crack it gives you an notification on a screen and there's a certain screen height that this indication has to meet to qualify as a crack,” said Simpson, “I like the theory behind it, I like all the stuff about how electric and magnetic fields work, it’s just interesting to me.”

After finding a crack in something it means it’s ready for the next steps of replacement or repair. Something like a bolt is easier for replacement, but sometimes larger things need more intensive work or may need a second opinion. NDI specialists will take photos and mark it with a grease pencil to be able to show to the metals technicians. “Depending on what it looks like we may need to get the second opinion from an engineer, but after that we can send it to their shop to be fixed or we can send it in to depo where they can just overhaul the entire thing and replace the whole part,” said Simpson.

As their job is to look for cracks, the best day for NDI specialists is not finding areas of concern. “Even if I don’t find something, that’s the best day because that means everything is going fine, that means there are no problems and we can put parts back on the jets and that means the jets can go back into the sky, and that's awesome,” said Simpson.

The 180FW is always mission focused, and our success is achieved through the Airmen who ensure our forces maintain the highest levels of proficiency and readiness for worldwide deployment.

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