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NDI: Seeing things unseen by human eyes

Joey Mabrey, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, looks for abnormalities on and around an aircraft part using an eddy current, at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. Mabrey uses the information received during the current to find cracks or abnormalities in aircraft material on Nellis AFB aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikaley Towle)

Joey Mabrey, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, looks for abnormalities on and around an aircraft part using an eddy current, at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. Mabrey uses the information received during the current to find cracks or abnormalities in aircraft material on Nellis AFB aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikaley Towle)

John Sanders, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, prepares the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory’s mobile x-ray equipment at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. As part of safety measures, the NDI Lab places cones in front of all doors, hangs up signs, and has flashing red lights as a warning so people know they’re using x-ray equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikaley Towle)

John Sanders, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, prepares the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory’s mobile x-ray equipment at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. As part of safety measures, the NDI Lab places cones in front of all doors, hangs up signs, and has flashing red lights as a warning so people know they’re using x-ray equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Mikaley Towle)

John Sanders, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, looks at a film x-ray of an aircraft at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11, 2015. The NDI Lab utilizes x-rays to pin-point possible damage to aircraft components.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

John Sanders, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, looks at a film x-ray of an aircraft at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11, 2015. The NDI Lab utilizes x-rays to pin-point possible damage to aircraft components.(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

Stephanie Zvonik, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, pours oils into a cap for testing at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. The NDI Lab test all Nellis AFB aircraft oil to ensure the integrity of the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

Stephanie Zvonik, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, pours oils into a cap for testing at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. The NDI Lab test all Nellis AFB aircraft oil to ensure the integrity of the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

Joey Mabrey, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, performs a fluorescent magnetic particle inspection at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. Magnetic particle inspections cause the abnormalities, such as cracks on aircraft parts, to be visible. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

Joey Mabrey, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, performs a fluorescent magnetic particle inspection at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. Magnetic particle inspections cause the abnormalities, such as cracks on aircraft parts, to be visible. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

Joey Mabrey, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, finds a crack inside an
aircraft part using an eddy current at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on
Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. An eddy current is an electric current in a conducting material that can show cracks unseeable to the human eye. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

Joey Mabrey, a contractor with the 57th Maintanence Group, finds a crack inside an aircraft part using an eddy current at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Aug. 11. An eddy current is an electric current in a conducting material that can show cracks unseeable to the human eye. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

A magnetic particle inspection is performed on an aircraft part at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev, Aug. 11. The MPI is a process for detecting surface and slightly subsurface abnormalities in magnetic materials such as iron, nickel and cobalt. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

A magnetic particle inspection is performed on an aircraft part at the Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory on Nellis Air Force Base, Nev, Aug. 11. The MPI is a process for detecting surface and slightly subsurface abnormalities in magnetic materials such as iron, nickel and cobalt. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Pilots often fly through the air at speeds well over 1,000 miles per hour, causing them to look like gray blurs slicing through the sky.

At Nellis AFB, they often fly over vast miles of empty desert during routine training missions.

In the blink of an eye, something could go wrong; the pilots could lose sight of each other, collide with one another, forcing them to eject from their aircraft. When they reach down to pull the ejection handle, they are expecting all the parts to work as advertised, in a smooth, swift chain reaction.

If one part malfunctions or there's a crack not seen by the naked eye, then the pilots cannot escape from the aircraft. Not only would the U.S. Air Force lose millions of dollars, but also the most valuable resource: the Airmen.

Nondestructive Inspection Laboratory provides support for approximately 120 permanently assigned aircraft and more than 500 visiting aircraft throughout the year. It also provides NDI support for all base agencies.

The NDI Lab inspects aircraft structures and sub-assemblies for defects and foreign objects by performing oil analysis, fluorescent dye penetrant, fluorescent magnetic particle, ultrasonic, eddy current and radiographic inspections. They help ensure the structural integrity of aircraft and sub-assemblies, as well as ensure the safety of the pilots and personnel on the ground.

"It's a joint oil analysis program because all military branches require an oil analysis on a flying aircraft," said Stephanie Zvonik, 57th Maintenance Group joint oil analysis program monitor. "We do an analysis for the foreign nationals and all TDY units as well. We'll have them bring it in so we always have that one-on-one contact."

Zvonik went on to add that the purpose of this whole program is for preventative maintenance.  With these programs, the NDI Lab can inspect each piece individually for cracks, breaks, or defects that the human eye can't see. 

"The oil analysis lab analyzes aircraft engine lubricating oil after each flight of the aircraft," said John Sanders, 57th MXG NDI Lab lead. "The analysis provides the metal content of the oil which identifies how the critical engine parts are wearing.  This pinpoints any problem areas of the engine that require repair by the propulsion technicians.  The early detection of defective engine parts prevents catastrophic failure of the engine."

All fighter aircraft are required to have the engine oil analyzed for wear metal concentration after flying.  The NDI Oil Analysis Lab completes this process after each flight for all fighter aircraft at Nellis AFB. 

"We also provide inspections and equipment for completing x-ray inspections of F-15 (Eagle) aircraft," said Sanders. "When maintenance is completed on the variable inlet ramps of the F-15, NDI must complete x-ray inspections to ensure no tools or hardware was left inside the ramp that might damage the aircraft engine."

The NDI Lab is manned 24/7.  If planes are flying at Nellis AFB, there is someone working at the NDI Lab.

The NDI Lab at Nellis AFB is unique in the way that the technicians get to work on many different weapons systems and aircraft.

"We inspect assigned A-10 (Thunderbolt II), F-15-C/D/E (Eagle and Strike Eagle), F-16-C/CG/CJ (Fighting Flacon), F-22 (Raptor) and F-35A (Lightning II) aircraft where most other bases have only one or two types of aircraft assigned," said Sanders.

All NDI technicians are certified per the National Aerospace Standard 410 and must complete a battery of exams prior to certification, and must complete the recertification process every five years.

"The standard establishes the requirements for the qualification and certification of personnel performing nondestructive inspection in the aerospace manufacturing, service, maintenance and overhaul industries," Sanders added.