359th TRS NDI Tech. Training slated to introduce Computed Radiography to curriculum

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Pedro Tenorio
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

Starting in August 2019, the 359th Training Squadron Detachment 1 at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, will implement a new type of radiography training for their Nondestructive Inspection Airmen.

NDI is a career field dedicated to inspecting aircraft components with various methods and then giving them the thumbs up or down if they’re acceptable for service. One of those methods is radiography.

“When utilizing radiography, we’re able to get an ‘inside look’ at a particular weapon system component,” said NDI instructor supervisor Tech. Sgt. Matthew Barnes. “Without radiography we would have to be much more invasive and it would require numerous man hours and coordination from multiple maintenance agencies to gain access to an area that we need to inspect.”

To achieve this, they use traditional radiographic film, which is processed similarly to how film photographs were processed using chemicals in a dark environment creating a hazardous condition.

That is when Computed Radiography started hitting the scene – well some scenes.

“Every aircraft that our career field supports, the work load (that relates to our job) varies,” Master Sgt. Clifford Daniels, NDI instructor supervisor, said. “For one aircraft we may x-ray every day. Some aircraft we don’t x-ray at all. The implementation of CR to the field started with the aircraft that had a heavy x-ray requirement, such as the F-15.”

Daniels said CR and traditional methods are still used in the field, but CR just adds more possibilities and makes more sense, while minimizing risk to radiographers.

CR is the digital camera compared to traditional being the film camera. The CR uses a phosphor imaging plate that stores energy gathered from x-ray protons to form an image on the computer. No more hazardous chemicals or long processing times. It also allows radiographers to zoom in on the image, measure more accurately and even alter images to correct them and or enhance the inspection.

Arguably the most important benefit, though, is the reduction of radiation exposure.

“X-ray radiation can be lethal,” Daniels said. “CR was built on the premise that there is no level of radiation that is risk free. With the traditional/analog inspection method, if we x-ray and the image is not usable, then we’ll have to do the inspection again. So we’re exposing the area and us to radiation twice. But with Computed radiography, we will be able to manipulate the image in a way that’s still readable to us.”

Normal inspections can last upwards of five minutes.

But Daniels said the Air Force and the code of federal regulations has drawn a very thick line in the sand for them to know exactly what is expected and how to utilize radiation safely. CR can decrease exposure time so it will also decrease the potential exposure of any radiographer involved in the inspection.

After years of CR being used in the field, and with the backing of NDI program office, CR is coming to the NDI schoolhouse.

Currently, students are taught CR when they arrive at their operational base. Now they will get hands-on training during technical training.

“This will benefit the Air Force as many people out in the field have already fully transitioned to the CR inspection method,” Daniels said.  “Now we will be teaching it, 62 hours of formal training on this new inspection method, so when they use it, they’ll already have a background with it.”

Barnes also stated that in this day and age, students are well versed in technology as they grew up with computers, so this method will leave a small learning gap as they transition to CR.

“We are at a time in the Air Force where technology is increasing innovation exponentially,” he said. “Our initial skills trainees are smarter/more qualified than they ever have been before. Allowing them the opportunity to utilize CR will increase their proficiency and their understanding of radiography much quicker.”

The instructors are excited to implement the new training in August and the first class will get their hands on the CR partway through their training. Daniels estimates September is when a trainee will touch a CR for the first time in the schoolhouse.