KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea – As aircraft components are used, they gradually degrade and can suffer from fractures and breaks that cannot be seen with the naked eye. If left unchecked, these issues can become more severe. The 8th Maintenance Squadron (MXS) nondestructive inspection flight (NDI) is responsible for examining aircraft for cracks and to check the oil for contaminants and metal wear.
The NDI flight utilizes nondestructive techniques to examine aircraft, particularly when the aircraft has flown multiple sorties and is likely to have experienced fatigue.
“People may think this job isn't important, but that is far from the truth,” Airman 1st Class Jaylin Tripp, 8th MXS NDI specialist. “Depending on where a crack is on the aircraft, the jet can literally snap in half in the air.”
With such a critical role in the maintenance of the F-16 Fighting Falcon, NDI Airmen are armed with multiple methods to ensure mission success.
“The diversity of this job is my favorite [part],” said Tech. Sgt. Levi Brown III, 8th MXS NDI NCO in charge. “There are multiple methods we use to find flaws and we are not coded to any one aircraft. Anything on the base can be inspected by us.”
NDI offers five distinct portable crack detection techniques for both on-site and off-site inspections. These methods are penetrant testing, magnetic particle inspection, eddy current testing, ultrasonic testing, and radiography. The testing method used depends on the particular sections that need to be examined.
“One of the methods that we use to inspect for cracks and defects is magnetic particles where we magnetize a part and pour in a liquid which has iron particles in it,” said Tripp. “Since the part is magnetic, the particles will attract to the crack on the part and fill it in. The particles are also fluorescent, so they shine when you hover a blacklight over it. It's been my favorite method since I learned it in tech school.”
Although NDI’s accomplishments are unseen by most without the use of a black light, they remain an integral piece to maintaining the lethality and battle readiness of the Wolf Pack by always keeping aircraft in prime flying condition.