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Finding potential mishaps before they happen: NDI Airmen

An Airman looks at an aircraft part beside a black light.

Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman, inspects an aircraft part on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 11, 2018. Black lights are used to show liquid penetrant identifying cracks during inspections. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

Man puts glowing liquid penetrant on aircraft wheel.

Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman, demonstrates the luminosity of liquid penetrant on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 11, 2018. A liquid penetrant works by slowly seeping across materials to show small or hidden cracks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

An Airmen uses a flashlight to look at an aircraft part.

Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman, inspects a C-130J on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 10, 2018. NDI Airmen require intimate knowledge of the different parts of the aircraft they’re assigned to, to be able to properly scan them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

An Airmen looks down at another Airmen who is in the wing of an aircraft.

Airman 1st Class Garrett Gill, 19th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman, and Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th MXS nondestructive inspection journeyman, maneuvers through the crawlspaces of a C-130J on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 10, 2018. NDI Airmen occasionally crawl into spaces as small as a few feet around to scan aircraft parts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

A man looks at a green x-ray device.

Staff Sgt. Joe Hayes, 19th Maintenance Squadron assistant NCO in charge of nondestructive inspection shop, examines an x-ray device on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 6, 2018. Thicker materials require the x-ray device to put out a maximum of 160 kilovolts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

A man looks at a computer screen with an x-ray on it.

Staff Sgt. Joe Hayes, 19th Maintenance Squadron assistant NCO in charge of nondestructive inspection shop, views an x-ray of an aircraft part on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 6, 2018. X-rays help detect faults in an aircraft during an in-depth examination of an aircraft part during its inspection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

A man adjusts a device with one hand, while the other hand holds a small piece of metal to a larger piece of metal.

Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman, calibrates an ultrasonic device on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 10, 2018. The ultrasonic device send out sound waves and when the waves are bounced back at a certain frequency, NDI Airmen know that they’ve found a crack. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

An Airmen looks at an aircraft part.

Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman, inspects a C-130J on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 10, 2018. NDI Airmen investigate the aircraft structure to find small cracks to help maintain the integrity of the aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

An aircraft wheel is dipped into red liquid.

Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman, dips an aircraft part in liquid penetrant remover, on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 11, 2018. The remover is used to eliminate the 20 percent of liquid penetrant that is left behind after washing aircraft parts being inspected. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

A man holds up an aircraft wheel, with black light surrounding him.
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Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection journeyman, holds an aircraft part on Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Apr. 11, 2018. NDI Airmen use five methods to detect discrepancies: magnetic particle, fluorescent penetrant, X-ray, ultrasonic and eddy current. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

Gloved hands pull a vital aircraft component from glowing, toxic pools of chemically-laced liquid designed to reveal otherwise unseen dangers.  

A nondestructive inspection Airman searches for cracks capable of taking down an aircraft by analyzing the suspect piece with eyes specially trained for the job.

Airmen from the 19th Maintenance Squadron NDI shop perform aircraft integrity checks, at set intervals and upon request, using liquids and a variety of other methods to assist them in seeing cracks and additional imperfections in aircraft parts.

“NDI’s mission is to test aircraft and aircraft parts for integrity purposes and structural health,” said Airman 1st Class Tye Braden, 19th MXS nondestructive inspection journeyman. “We deal with a lot of minute problems; if you mess up, a lot can go wrong. If you miss a crack, it can keep expanding, and a wing can fall off.”

NDI Airmen operate equipment to see cracks imperceptible to the naked eye — cracks as small as one-tenth of an inch. They scan the aircraft for faulty elements, with some items located inside the aircraft.

“We work with engineers to figure out which parts of the plane need to be scanned,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Hayes, 19th MXS assistant NCO in charge of nondestructive inspection shop. “We do a little bit of everything to verify the integrity of the materials we scan.”

This verification process involves using scanning techniques such as ultrasonic waves, fluorescent penetrant, magnetic particle inspection, radiography and eddy current. NDI Airmen scan more than 2,000 parts a year using these techniques.

NDI Airmen are responsible for intensely searching for naturally occurring dangers on aircraft from the 19th Airlift Wing, 314th Airlift Wing, 189th Airlift Wing and transient aircraft.

Harsh chemicals, electric currents, sound waves or even x-rays are exercised regularly to ensure the structural integrity and health of aircraft. NDI Airmen implement these techniques to keep the Little Rock aircraft safe, flying and mission-ready at all times.

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