9/11/2012 - DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. -- When Staff Sgt. Kim Leslie introduces herself as a non-destructive inspection specialist, she often clarifies that she is a "crack finder." While the term is accurate, it does not capture the depth of her mission.
Staff Sgt. Kim Leslie, 94th Airlift Wing non-destructive inspection specialist, uses a magnetic particle machine to detect cracks in a metal test piece, which could potentially damage aircraft. The 94th Airlift Wing NDI lab uses high-tech equipment to perform operations on aircraft to ensure Airman safety, cost-effectiveness and mission success.
Kim Leslie calibrates an eddy current machine, which will be used to detect cracks in metal parts of airframes. NDI specialists use eddy current machines, magnetic particle machines, ultrasonic detectors and portable X-Ray devices to peer into the aircraft and components without having to take them apart.
Airman 1st Class Dylan Brown, 94th Airlift Wing non-destructive inspection specialist, uses a magnetic particle machine to detect cracks on a metal test piece. Cracks on the test piece appear bright green under black light, due to liquid dye penetrant.
Dylan Brown cleans liquid dye penetrant off of metal test pieces that were used in a magnetic particle machine. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Elizabeth Van Patten)
The 94th Airlift Wing NDI lab uses high-tech equipment to perform operations on aircraft to ensure Airman safety, cost-effectiveness and mission success. Finding structural flaws, no matter how minor, can have a major impact.
NDI specialists can be proud of what they do. The lab is a preventative maintenance shop that keeps accidents from happening - accidents that could cause loss of life.
Using specialized techniques and equipment, crack finders have also been able to save the Air Force millions of dollars in damage and countless unscheduled maintenance man hours, according to Leslie. Additionally, without the NDI lab, aircraft parts would need to be sent off for inspection, causing an unnecessary delay in the mission.
"We do check for cracks," said Leslie. "We check all over the aircraft, for structural integrity. Some of the inspections we do are on the aircraft, and some are done after other maintainers take the parts off and bring them in. It just depends on the technical orders."
Technical orders are used across the Air Force to standardize aircraft inspection.
We use these schedules to routinely inspect the aircraft, said Leslie. That's where the bulk of the work comes from, but extra inspections may be scheduled as needed.
The NDI lab uses magnetic particle and eddy current equipment, ultrasonic detectors and portable X-Ray devices to peer into the aircraft and components without having to take them apart. Also used is a liquid dye sprayed on a component, which seeps into any cracks so the defect can be seen under black light.
NDI specialists attend a ten-week technical school, where they learn the theory of each procedure used in the lab, followed by extensive on-the-job training.
Airman 1st Class Dylan Brown, 94th AW NDI specialist, gets hands-on training from the NDI superintendent, and fellow specialists, such as Leslie.
"During tech school, I learned to operate all the machines we use, how to calibrate them and keep them in working order," said Brown. "We also learned all the theory behind what we do and why it works."
Brown now applies what he learned in tech school about visual inspection, eddy current inspection, ultrasonic inspection, radiography, inspections using penetrants and magnetic particles.
This is all done under the supervision of his qualified wingmen.
Once Brown finishes his upgrade training, he will be a fully qualified and capable NDI specialist. He will be well versed in not only the theory behind the inspection techniques, but also in the specialized equipment needed to perform each type of inspection.
Those inspections occur on every airframe the Air Force operates.
"TOs are being written to prepare for the new C-130 J-models," said Leslie. "The newer aircraft will have a lot more advanced types of materials on it, which will require more advanced types of inspection procedures. The amount of work will likely not change, but the type of work will change. It does help that the overall theory across the two models are very similar."
Inspections occur over the total lifespan of an aircraft. Once the new J-models arrive on base, the NDI specialists will have only a little time to adapt to the new airframes, but it is expected that there will be no decrease in quality or quantity of inspections.
The eventual force restructure implementation will only be more proof that the 94th Airlift Wing, and its NDI lab, will adapt.
Photographs by Senior Airman Elizabeth Van Patten 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs