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NDI - seeing through the jet

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Bryan Crane
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Finding discrepancies on any aircraft can be a challenging job, especially since some of them cannot be seen with the naked eye. It is the 509th Maintenance Squadron's Non-Destructive Inspection shop that helps maintainers find these discrepancies.

NDI uses a variety of methods to check the structural integrity of an aircraft.

"Some of the methods we use in the shop include X-rays, ultra-sonics, and fluorescent penetrate," said Master. Sgt. Tracey Gilliard, 509th MXS NDI NCO in-charge.

One of the main inspection methods used here at Whiteman is infrared thermography.

"We use infrared thermography a lot because of the composite structure of the B-2 Spirit," Gilliard said. "Infrared thermography uses heat signatures to look for disbonds and delaminates on the aircraft."

Disbonds are the most common discrepancies NDI usually finds; they occur when the outer layer of the aircraft slowly separates from the adhesive underneath it.

The process for diagnosing theses issues begins with normal maintenance checks by the aircraft's crew chiefs.

"The crew chiefs will find potential discrepancies on their normal maintenance inspections," Gilliard said. "Then they will call us and we will come out to the jet to diagnose the problem. Some parts can be brought into the shop if need be. Once we diagnose the issue, we then inform the crew chiefs and they will go on to correct the problem."

The Whiteman NDI shop consists of 10 active-duty Airman and two full-time Guard members.

"We work in two shifts throughout the week," Gilliard said. "We also always have somebody on call in case of an emergency."

The Guardsmen have been working with the active-duty members since 2008, a year before the total force integration push in 2009. The head-start helped smooth the transition and has led to a great working relationship.

"We all work well together," said Doug Garner 131st MXS NDI NCOIC. "When we are out there, you can't tell the difference between active or Guard because we all complete the mission to the highest capability."

NDI shop members attend a 10-week course in Pensacola, Fla., before on station on-the-job training, to become fully qualified for the job.

"The technical training covers the basic methods of the job," Gilliard said. "They then must complete 12 months of on-the-job training before they are fully qualified to work on any part of the jet without supervision."

Gilliard praises her crew for their hard work and vast knowledge.

"We have a great team here," Gilliard said. "I can rely on them to get the mission done accurately and not have to question them constantly. They know what they are doing and they are very good at getting the job done."

Gilliard and the rest of the shop understand the importance of their mission.

"If we miss something it could be catastrophic," Gilliard said. "That's why I am lucky my Airmen are top-notch and we have yet to have an issue like that to date."