NDI: Microscopic Matters
Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
After an aircraft lands, a small component of the engine is sent to a laboratory off the flightline. There, a technician prepares the part, called a magnetic chip detector, by cleaning it with alcohol and stamping the chip onto a carbon tab to check for materials.
Afterward, the nondestructive inspection technician uses a JetScan, a machine that can peer into the microscopic depths of the chip, to ensure foreign materials have not found their way into the engine oil of a multi-million dollar jet.
The nondestructive inspection shop employs noninvasive methods to inspect metal objects for signs of wear and tear or defect before it becomes a problem. The 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron NDI shop directly supports the 20th Fighter Wing, inspecting maintenance equipment as well as F-16CM Fighting Falcon components.
"The best part of my job is to see and hear the aircraft taking off every day and being able to help them do their mission," said Senior Airman Eric Corrado, 20th EMS NDI journeyman.
Using various equipment, including x-ray machines, ultrasound and microscopes, NDI Airmen need to be precise when inspecting to ensure even the smallest damage does not go unnoticed, sometimes down to .005 of an inch or less.
Airman 1st Class Jerod Rice, 20th EMS NDI apprentice, said the majority of their job consists of inspecting the chips as well as conducting oil analysis with a Joint Oil Analysis Program machine, which are regularly conducted on a flight-hour cycle.
"Our job with JOAPs and chips is the most important when it comes to the flying mission because it deals with the engine itself," said Corrado. "If we donít catch a wear metal (metal fragment) in the chip or inside of the oil and a jet goes up in the air, it has the potential for catastrophic failure."
If the shop does find something wrong, such as an incorrect elemental makeup or a flaw in structural integrity, they then follow their protocol checklists to let the flightline know whether the aircraft needs to be grounded or if another sample is needed for further testing.
As an F-16 takes off down the runway of Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, the pilot can rest easy that the jet has been thoroughly inspected ó down to the microscopic level.
Photo By Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney | U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Eric Corrado, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman, closes the drawer to a JetScan machine at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., Feb. 13, 2018. Corrado used the machine, which functions as a microscope to inspect magnetic chip detectors for any metal fragments that may be in the oil of an aircraft engine. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)