Use Your Eyes

The most basic nondestructive test/inspection (NDT/NDI) is the experienced eyes of an aircraft maintenance technician. Whether you are working on a piece part or an aircraft, using your eyes efficiently and effectively will make the difference among being OK, good, and great. My Papa told me, “Eyes open and mouth shut;” not only did he expect me to watch and learn but to be vigilant — working around large animals on a farm is dangerous for the unaware. The same is true in aircraft maintenance; not only can an aircraft, engine, or propeller kill you, but what you see or don’t see can be life-saving.

An experienced technician looks not only for obvious damage but signs of abuse, misuse, and potential problems. There is much to-do about the different types of visual inspections; we have gotten to the point where airworthiness directives have to define what a detailed inspection entails. We have also had controversy over how much or how deep someone should look during “routine” inspections, such as 100 hour or even annuals. The fear seems to be that one will find something that has to be fixed or that is unexpected; like that isn’t the purpose of the inspection? While there is no doubt one can always find something wrong, not all discrepancies render an aircraft (or other article) unairworthy. The difference among the OK, good, and great is the ability to know routine issues from the what the he** items.

While training can provide the basic knowledge on how to accomplish tasks, constant awareness provides the experience necessary to become efficient and effective in a job. The aircraft technician’s job is to ensure no unairworthy item is missed during an inspection. It takes both training and experience to accomplish sophisticated NDT/NDI techniques such as ultrasonic, magnetic-particle, liquid penetrant, radiographic, eddy-current testing, and low coherence interferometry. However, every technique requires visual acumen. Wisdom is developed by incorporating new experience into existing knowledge, and in the case of an aircraft maintenance technician, constant use of one’s eyes.


Sarah MacLeod is executive director of the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), an organization she helped found more than 25 years ago.

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