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Nondestructive Testing Keeps Bagram Aircraft Flying

Airman 1st Class Jeffrey Pilgreen of the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection team inspects an aircraft part using an ultraviolet light and a special dye to detect flaws. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kevin Tomko)
by Staff Sgt. Kevin Tomko
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan (AFNS) Apr 04, 2007
They endure wide swings in temperature and dusty conditions, and they are constantly pushed to their limits. They are the F-15E Strike Eagles stationed here. But they are machines--expensive machines that require teams of experts to keep them in top running condition.

One of those teams is the nondestructive inspection or team, part of the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron.

Nondestructive inspection, or NDI, is a program the Air Force uses to ensure the durability of structural parts and components of aircraft without destroying the part and, in some cases, without removing the part from the aircraft. This team uses sophisticated equipment to find discrepancies in critical areas of the aircraft.

In combat zones such as Bagram Airfield, the tools and techniques of NDI may be the same as at a home base, but the team works at an increased tempo.

Staff Sgt. Corey Whitman, non-commissioned officer in charge of NDI, said the NDI team uses processes such as eddy current, ultrasound, and X-rays to test the components of the aircraft. They also test lubricants.

Eddy current is a process that uses electrical current to detect abnormalities in the material such as cracks or damage from heat. Ultrasound and X-rays are also used for finding cracks depending on the type of material inspected. If the part to be tested cannot be removed from the aircraft, it is done on the aircraft.

"For the most part we deal with cracks and oil analysis," Sergeant Whitman said. "We have different types of inspections. We have phase inspections and those that are ordered by the crew chief."

Phase inspections are scheduled inspections and preventive maintenance accomplished when the aircraft accumulates a certain number of flying hours.

As for the F-15s at Bagram, there have been no major trouble areas and the aircraft have been performing quite well according to the NDI team.

"Really, just about every place on the aircraft is vulnerable to some type of failure," said Senior Airman Kevin Louie, a journeyman technician for NDI. "Some are more critical than others. But I can't say that we have any major trouble areas with our F-15s."

He said as far as the type of work is concerned, everything he is doing here is the same as he does at home. The only differences are the size of facilities and the environment. "We are trying to make this a better lab. The work we do here has never been done here before."

Sergeant Whitman said he knows the importance of his work and the necessity of keeping the aircraft in the air and doing it safely. "I know I'm here for a good reason, and I'm playing a part in something that's bigger than me."

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