PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia --
Just like the human skeleton, aircraft are susceptible to tiny fractures that may compromise structural integrity. Some fractures are easily identifiable, while others are so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye. When this happens to humans, they typically go to a radiologist to identify any injuries that may not be diagnosed through a visual examination. Like X-ray technicians, nondestructive inspection Airmen, work diligently to identify and repair similar situations involving aircraft.
Recently NDI Airmen assigned to the 378th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron partnered with their Royal Saudi Air Force counterparts to create a streamlined way of inspecting the aircraft assigned to Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“Having the opportunity to work with one of our most valued coalition partners is always a good thing,” said Master Sgt. Luis Vicente, 378th EMXS fabrication flight superintendent. “It increases our cohesiveness and ability to work in conjunction with our partners in situations necessary to accomplish the mission.”
Typically, the inspection is conducted by placing an X-ray pod near the aircraft and scanning the structure onto a special digital film. The film is then processed and maintenance professionals are able to identify microscopic fissures in the aircraft’s structure. The digital format of the imagery also allows NDI technicians to use software that enhances the image’s clarity to better diagnose issues.
“These inspections are critical to all aspects of maintenance,” said Airman 1st Class Christian Hall, 378th EMXS NDI technician. “Without the NDI scan, these unseen cracks could lead to bigger problems that affect our ability to conduct combat missions. It also puts our aircrew members at unnecessary risk.”
The maintenance professionals at PSAB had one problem though. Prior to forward deploying to PSAB, the NDI processing machine assigned to the 378th EMXS was damaged beyond repair by a severe storm at its previous location. Needing to find a solution to their unforeseen circumstances, Vicente reached out to the RSAF maintenance flight.
“NDI affects all aspects of maintenance,” Vicente said. “We needed to find a way to overcome this hurdle to one of our most crucial capabilities in maintenance. Luckily for us, we have a great coalition partner.”
Vicente would go on to explain how what he found far exceeded his expectations. RSAF Chief Salman D. Al-Malki, PSAB’s head of NDI, presented him with a new digital NDI processing machine; the exact version as their previous one. Then, Tech. Sgt. Chris Graham, 378 EMXS NDI noncommissioned officer in charge, and his team partnered with the RSAF chief and taught them the latest techniques on how to utilize the digital machine.
Graham and Salman decided to use this as a collaborative opportunity for RSAF members to gain experience while also being able to utilize the equipment to scan their aircraft currently conducting operations in the region.
“We clearly had a mutual interest to work together,” Graham said. “This was a rare opportunity to fulfill both our needs while also increasing our maintenance interoperability with a close coalition partner.”
“Not only are we teaching our counterparts new ways to use the equipment in order to improve their maintenance efficiency, we get to bounce ideas and learn something ourselves,” Hall added. “It speeds up our maintenance times and gets the jets back in the fight faster.”
Graham and Vicente hope this collaboration is only the beginning. They also explained how accommodating Salman was during their partnership.
“Our regional partners help make us the strong,” Graham said. “The willingness of those like Chief Salman to collaborate with us to improve our processes and military relationships reinforces one truth: that we have the best and most cooperative coalition in history.”
NDI Airmen may not be a well-known part of the aircraft maintenance community, but they play a pivotal role in ensuring the “bones” of aircraft remain stable enough to accomplish the mission safely. Now, with the cooperation between two coalition partners, the U.S. can continue its commitment to regional security.