Beyond the surface: Airmen keep tankers flying

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rito Smith
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Imagine getting hurt and thinking it might be a broken bone. The first thought of many is ‘hey let me go see my doctor.’ What follows next is X-rays, testing and troubleshooting broken bones.

Non-destructive inspection lab technicians are like doctors for aircraft, they work day in and day out at MacDill to ensure the structural integrity of KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft are safe to fly.

“We are part of the fabrication flight here at MacDill,” said Tech. Sgt. Markas Williams, NCO in charge of NDI assigned to the 6th Maintenance Squadron. “Our job is to find defects or cracks in the aircraft before they can compromise the integrity of the structure.”

Their career field also focuses on finding corrosion on aircraft and all aircrew ground equipment.

“On the aircrew ground equipment we look for cracks in the welded material,” said Williams. “Once we have located a crack, we will reach out to the sheet metal Airmen so they can develop a plan to fix it.”

These Airmen use various methods to inspect aircraft and equipment like a liquid penetrant, a machine that registers any displacement on the structure of the aircraft, and even an X-ray machine.

“We used an X-ray machine to find corrosion on one of the bulkheads of a KC-135,” said Williams. “It was extremely important that we found the corrosion because if we hadn’t and that aircraft flew it could have caused more damage to the whole structural component making the aircraft unsafe for aircrew.”

During the X-ray process, NDI Airmen worked side-by-side with bioenvironmental engineering technicians to ensure the safety of individuals working around the X-rays.

“We conducted a radiation scatter survey before, during and after NDI was shooting the images,” said Tech. Sgt. Paolo D. Melendez, NCO in charge of readiness plans and operations bioenvironmental engineering assigned to the 6th Aerospace Medicine Squadron. “This was to determine exposure levels generated from industrial X-ray machines were within acceptable criteria for workers and members of the general public.”

Williams stressed that attention to detail was vital to their job to ensure the safety of all aircrew.

“Our job is to save lives,” said Williams. “We have to make sure the structural integrity of the aircraft stays intact, we have no room for error.”