HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
As the sun rises and traffic begins to get busy at the front gate, one small unit has already begun their day, forming a line on the flightline to perform their daily foreign object debris walk, here.
The Airmen with the 1st Special Operations Maintenance Squadron non-destructive inspection flight are only responsible for a small section of the flightline; however, their job is no small task. They ensure the aircraft are well-maintained and safe for the crew on board.
The NDI Airmen are responsible for detecting the smallest imperfections, wear and cracks on aircraft as well as aerospace ground equipment. If gone unnoticed, catastrophic implications could occur.
“I believe we help keep planes flying,” said Senior Airman Thomas Speulda, a 1st SOMXS NDI journeyman. “We do not want to put a pilot in an aircraft with a stabilizer that is about to fall off.”
Each morning, after helping ensure the flightline is clean of debris, the NDI team inspects and performs maintenance on their equipment. The first step is to make sure it is up to standards before using it on multi-million dollar assets.
“Out of all the Air Forces in the world, we are probably the most maintained, because we are able to find these cracks quickly before they expand,” said Speulda.
One machine that is used by the NDI flight is an eddy current device. The device, shaped like a black rectangle with a screen on the top, weighing approximately 4 pounds makes this device easily transportable; the capabilities it possesses are invaluable. Additionally, the eddy current uses a high frequency scanner to detect cracks the naked eye cannot see.
Additionally, NDI possesses equipment that can take X-rays of metal rods inside an aircraft and wings. This allows them to find any deficiencies forming inside the part that they could not reach.
“We are responsible for finding these flaws and keeping these aircraft safe to fly,” said Speulda. “That’s why we have aircraft from the 1960’s and 1970’s still flying today.”
The day may begin the same for the 1st SOEMS NDI flight Airmen, but each work order offers a new test of attention to detail and eagerness to guarantee aircraft and aerospace ground equipment are free of defects and safe for the crew.
“We are like the middlemen in keeping mission success; if a plane goes down, it can cost Airmen their lives,” said Staff Sgt. Joe Thomas NCO in-charge. “NDI prevents that from happening because we catch those cracks before an aircraft is sent out on the next mission.”