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Technology helps inspection shop find aircraft issues not visible to naked eye

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Bryan Crane
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
The human eye can see many things, but it cannot see everything. This is why Whiteman Air Force Base employs the 509th Maintenance Squadron non-destructive inspection shop.

The NDI shop uses a variety of methods to check the structural integrity of an aircraft and to find discrepancies not obvious to the naked eye.

"We use many different types of technology to get our job done," said Airman 1st Class Rolando Echavarria, 509th MXS NDI technician. "Some methods include x-rays, ultra-sonic, fluorescent penetration and infrared-thermography."

With the composite structure of the B-2 Spirit bomber, the most common inspection method is the infrared-thermography.

"Our infrared-thermography uses heat signatures to look for disbands and delaminates on the aircraft," Echavarria said. "It's also our most common method used with the B-2 because of the structure of the jet."

Echavarria said the most common discrepancies found on the B-2 are dis-bonds. A dis-bond occurs when the outer layer of the aircraft begins to separate from the adhesive underneath.

Each aircraft goes through a phase inspection every 1,000 flight hours. During these inspections, and any other routine inspection, crew chiefs scrutinize aspects of the aircraft to see if there are potential discrepancies needing further evaluation. If further evaluation is needed, the NDI shop steps up to the plate.

"When the crew chiefs come across a potential problem they will then call us out to the jet to fully diagnose it," Echavarria said. "Smaller parts will be brought back to the shop to inspect using one of our various techniques, otherwise we bring the technology right to the aircraft."

Whiteman's NDI shop consists of nine active-duty Airmen and one full-time National Guard member from the 131st Bomb Wing, working two shifts, seven days a week.

"Throughout a normal week we will have two shifts each day with someone on call overnight," Echavarria said. "During exercises we go to 24/7 operations to get the mission done."

The 509th and 131st Bomb Wing's NDI shop members began their integration back in 2008 and have since worked close together to accomplish the mission.

"Even before the official integration, both shops worked closely with each other," Echavarria said. "When we go out to the jet for something I can guarantee nobody else can tell who is the active duty member and who is the guard member because together we have been trained by the best and we all complete the mission to the highest capability."

Master Sgt. Tracey Gilliard, 509th MXS NDI NCO in-charge, praises her crew for their hardwork 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."

The NDI shop members understand their role in Whiteman's mission, and this understanding drives them to do their best each and every day.

"Every day I come to work knowing I contribute," Echavarria said. "There's a lot of pressure with this job knowing any mistake could be very costly, but we do our best work under the pressure."