Non-destructive inspection: saving lives, equipment early on

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- The KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft at RAF Mildenhall are decades old, but kept in tiptop shape nonetheless by Airmen from the 100th Maintenance Squadron Non-Destructive Inspection shop.

Spending much of their time in a dark room with a black light, or using an x-ray machine, the NDI team inspects aircraft parts for defects and cracks, supporting Team Mildenhall aircraft as well as all transient aircraft.

"A lot of our aircraft are aging, they fly over a multitude of different environments, so we have to ensure they're ready to do what they go to do," said Staff Sgt. AJ Galindo, 100th MXS assistant NDI NCO in charge. "We're the preventative side, and we're the diagnostic side; we're warning of the way ahead before it gets worse."

Unlike most maintainers who look forward to not finding any discrepancies or faults to aircraft, NDI Airmen are one of the few who anticipate finding damaged equipment.

"When we find something bad or find something cracked, that's a good day for us," said Staff Sgt. Joel Kelehar, 100th MXS NDI craftsman.

In order to complete their job, the NDI shop inspects aircraft parts using x-ray machines and fluorescent penetrant that help spot defects invisible to the naked eye.

Up front, these Airmen are saving the Air Force a lot of money, by ensuring the parts initially broken are not continuously enduring more damage. Not only do they find problems in aircraft parts, they also assist the aerospace ground equipment shop with spotting defects in their equipment as well.

"The time an inspection takes depends completely on what we're inspecting, and the prep work that goes into it," Galindo explained. "The actual inspection of our parts takes about five minutes. But to remove panel, ladders and safety harnesses and coordinate with everyone involved to get to that part, it could take up to six hours."

A valuable asset to any military mission, NDI Airmen must rely on their vision and must focus on the task at hand to accomplish their duties.

"Our mission is to have an extremely high attention to detail," said Kelehar. "Even the minutest crack could cause catastrophic damage if missed. Every call we make, whether a part is cracked or not cracked, means our integrity is on the line every time."