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Airmen destroy nothing to sustain mission

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England - Airmen fly, fight and win today's wars by putting bombs on target precisely and causing scaled levels of destruction to accomplish its mission. But some Airmen here are able to support that mission by not destroying anything.

The Airmen in the 48th Equipment Maintenance Squadron nondestructive inspection section never have to destroy a thing, because their job is to find problems without even damaging them.

"Our whole life is about finding defects without impairing the serviceability or usability of the part we're inspecting," said Senior Airman Joshua Robinson, a 48th EMXS nondestructive inspection journeyman. "We work on components as small as a screw to as big as a 55-gallon drum in here."

He and the rest of the nondestructive inspection team of approximately 20 Airmen are responsible for ensuring the 48th Fighter Wing's fleet of F-15 Eagles, HH-60G Pave Hawks and support equipment, valued at more than $5 billion, are free from cracks, foreign objects of destruction and other defects, including contamination.

Their work center is spotless; hardly any dirt can be found anywhere. It has to be that way because Staff Sgt. Cortney Coker, also an nondestructive inspection journeyman in the section, said any dirt on the parts could be hiding defects.

That's why every component that comes in for inspection must go through a cleaning and inspection process.

"When a part comes in, we have to pre-clean it, and then coat it in a chemical we call 'penetrent,'" she said. "The defects in the part hold the penetrent so it can be seen under a black light. If you see a crack, we'll further inspect it with a magnifying glass or a video microscope. From pre-cleaning a component, to inspection to post-cleaning it takes about 45 minutes to an hour."

It keeps the nondestructive inspection team busy. They inspect 30 to 40 individual components a week, and it's only a portion of their mission.

The nondestructive inspection team is also responsible for ensuring there isn't any contamination in the various oils that circulate through aircraft and support equipment. The fluids are as important to aircraft as blood is to humans, and according to Sergeant Coker, if there's too many "wear-metals" found in those fluids, it means there could be a serious problem.

To find the wear metals, the inspectors use a machine called a spectrometer, which zaps a vial of fluid with a little, green, electric bolt for 20 seconds and then it displays the results of the tests so the inspectors can determine what's inside.

"We're looking for indications that something is breaking down within the engine," said Master Sgt. Jay Cook, the nondestructive inspection section chief. "If we didn't look for the wear metals, we would have no warning of any internal engine problems and they could potentially seize up or fail all together."

Nondestructive inspection members don't limit their inspections to components or fluids, but go so far as to X-ray the entire aircraft while it's out on the flightline.

"We X-ray different sections of the aircraft looking for FOD, water and cracks," Sergeant Coker said.

They then develop the X-ray film and look through them to find what it is they are looking for.

"We have the best job in maintenance because we don't have to tear pieces apart, we just inspect them with all of these neat gadgets," Sergeant Coker said.

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