Nondestructive testing keeps "Charlie West" flying

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Keith
  • 130th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
They have dropped bombs, supplies and paratroops. They have jammed electronic transmissions, fought fires, tracked icebergs, flown in hurricanes, carried live whales and camels, and landed on an aircraft carrier. They are constantly pushed to their limits.

They are C-130H3 Hercules aircraft of the West Virginia Air National Guard in Charleston, W.Va.--"Charlie West" for short.

But the C-130 "Herks" are machines--34 million dollar platforms that require seasoned maintenance teams to keep them in top running condition.

One of those teams is the Nondestructive Inspections (NDI) Lab of the 130th Maintenance Squadron (MXS).

Master Sergeant Kurt Evans, Supervisor of the NDI Lab, explains that NDI is a program the Air Force has to ensure the durability of structural parts and components of aircraft without destroying the part and, in some cases, without removing the part from the aircraft.

"We use eddy current, ultrasound, and X-rays to test the components of the aircraft," says Master Sgt. Evans.

Today, Staff Sgt. Danny Stone, NDI Technician, is using eddy current, to test the flight deck window mounting frames and post skin doublers on a WC-130H that belongs to the 125th Fighter Wing of the Florida Air National Guard.

Eddy current is a process that uses electrical current to detect abnormalities in the material such as cracks or damage from heat.

"Our main job is to look for cracks and structural defects," says Master Sgt. Evans.

Ultrasound and X-rays are also used for finding cracks depending on the type of material inspected.

When the team shoots X-rays they stay after hours and set up a barrier to protect themselves from the radiation.

"We inspect the tube attach fittings in back of the plane," says Staff Sgt. Andrew Richmond, a full time NDI technician with the 130th MXS. "We want to make sure it's not cracked or has mis-drilled holes.

If the part to be tested cannot be done on the aircraft, it is removed from the aircraft. The team checks the technical orders before they proceed with testing.

"For example, the wheel and tire shop will have a worn out tire. They'll take it apart. Their tech order says that the wheel needs an eddy current inspection before it's reassembled and that's where we come in," says Master Sgt. Evans.

Staff Sgt. Stone, a traditional guardsman for the 130th Airlift Wing, is an NDI technician at his civilian job.

"I do the exact same thing, but on wells for high energy piping and power plants," says Staff Sgt. Stone, who works for an engineering firm as a civilian. He received his NDI training from the Air National Guard.

"The military has one of the best NDI schools out there. It rivals any college," says Staff Sgt. Stone.

NDI school is a twelve-week intensive course.

"It gets you done with all your basic knowledge and theory classes for each method we do, and then you come here and do a 15-months on-the-job training to learn aircraft-specific work," says Staff Sgt. Stone.

On this wintry day in early January, Staff Sgt. Stone spends about three to four hours testing the windshield frame fasteners of the WC-130H, an aircraft that spent its early career chasing hurricanes. It is 36 years old. He doesn't find any cracks.

As for the C-130s at Charleston, there have been no major trouble areas and the aircraft have been performing quite well according to the NDI team.

The C-130H3 Hercules models flown by the West Virginia Air National Guard were manufactured in 1994; they're considered "new."

"Believe it or not, the active duty has the older model C-130s and they're having a lot of trouble with their wind boxes--that's what we call the inner part of the wing, the rectangular part that actually makes up the wing structure, and they're having a lot of trouble with those cracking on the older airplanes," says Master Sgt. Evans.

The NDI Lab has expert technicians and sophisticated equipment which serve to keep the aircraft flying and the aircrews safe.