Could Non-Destructive testing (NDT) have helped?

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United Airline Engine Explosion. Non-destructive Testing (NDT)
Photo source: Yahoo News

A Flashback To United Airlines Boeing 777 Emergency Landing.

In this article, we are going to talk about the experience that passengers had on this United Airlines flight, what went wrong and the importance of proper Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) for airplane safety.

Here is a comment from one resident that found debris in her front yard from the United airplane engine that exploded mid-flight.

“All of a sudden, I heard a big boom, and the house shook.” – Says one resident that was being interviewed by the TODAY news media.

What went wrong?

This is one of the first questions that came to mind when we first heard the news. Airplane and engine explosions during a flight are negative thoughts that we tend to block out when we first board an airplane. This was more than just a negative thought; this was reality for many of the passengers aboard a United Airlines airplane when one of the airplane’s engines exploded mid-flight.

Last month, United Airlines passengers aboard flight 328 from Colorado to Hawaii faced what
some may consider being their worst fear. The aircraft made an emergency landing when an engine failure led to said engine catching on fire and landing in a Denver residents’ front yard. “ The plane started shaking violently, and we lost altitude, and we started going down….When it initially happened, I thought we were done. I thought we were going down.” David Deluca, a flight 328
passenger who sat directly across the aisle with the failed engine, told The Associated Press.

United Airlines released the following statement via Twitter, “Flight UA328 from Denver to Honolulu experienced an engine failure shortly after departure, returned safely to Denver, and was met by emergency crews as a precaution. There are no reported injuries onboard. We are in contact with the FAA, NTSB, and local law enforcement. We are voluntarily & temporarily removing 24 Boeing 777 aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000 series engines from our schedule. We will continue to work closely with regulators to determine any additional steps and expect only a small number of customers to be inconvenienced. Safety remains our highest priority, which is why our crews take part in extensive training to prepare and manage incidents like UA328. We remain proud of our employees’
professionalism and steadfast dedication to safety every day.”

Thankfully, there were reportedly no injuries onboard or on the ground where the debris was
found. Yet, the Boeing 777’s Pratt & Whitney engine failure has still caused a lot of discussion around engine safety.

Could This Affect the Way Future Passengers View United Airlines?

With United Airlines being the only U.S airline with the affected engines, the Pratt & Whitney
4000 engines, it’s possible. While American Airlines has 67 Boeing 777’s in its fleet, they are all powered by Rolls-Royce and GE engines, therefore making them exempt from the FAA’s directive to step up the Boeing 777’s inspections. Due to covid, Delta Airlines retired their 18 Boeing 777’s earlier than expected, so they won’t be under any microscope anytime soon. So yes, some may see this as a United Airlines issue, but should they? Were the proper testing protocols already in place? Or could this have somehow been prevented?

The video:

Non-Destructive Testing? What is that?

As per ASNT “Nondestructive testing (NDT) is the process of inspecting, testing, or evaluating materials, components or assemblies for discontinuities, or differences in characteristics without destroying the serviceability of the part or system. In other words, when the inspection or test is completed the part can still be used.”

“Today modern nondestructive tests are used in manufacturing, fabrication, and in-service inspections to ensure product integrity and reliability, to control manufacturing processes, lower production costs, and to maintain a uniform quality level. During construction, NDT is used to ensure the quality of materials and joining processes during the fabrication and erection phases, and in-service NDT inspections are used to ensure that the products in use continue to have the integrity necessary to ensure their usefulness and the safety of the public.” source: ASNT

As you can see, a proper NDT (Non-Destructive Testing) is vital in making sure that materials maintain a consistent quality level. When an aircraft goes in for service, a complete NDT is performed to ensure that that aircraft is safe for travelers.

At Aero Marine Interior, Inc. our Non-Destructive Testing consist of six important processes:

  • RADIOGRAPHY: This type of inspection uses high-frequency penetrating radiation in the form of X-rays to locate discontinuities in a material, verify the integrity of internal components, and determine the quality of welds.
  • EDDY CURRENT: The overall inspection process consists of applying the Eddy Current Test (ET) Method to detect surface or subsurface cracks in the item inspected. The material tested includes ferromagnetic and non-ferromagnetic materials such as steel, aluminum, copper, and titanium, to name a few. It detects surface and subsurface flaws using state-of-the-art equipment. It allows the inspection of aircraft components and structures for cracks, corrosion, and conductivity caused by fatigue, stress, and extreme heat.
  • PHASED ARRAY ULTRASONICS: Phased array ultrasonics uses the general principles of ultrasonic testing and computer software to apply several UT beams to an article and manipulating them to an LCD screen. 
  • INFRARED THERMOGRAPHY: This method is an advanced visual inspection that utilizes infrared technology (cameras) to view an object’s heat profile. The software used in the camera is able to read temperatures and displays this parameter in a color format.
  • MAGNETIC PARTICLE: Magnetic particle examination (MPI) is usable only on materials having ferromagnetic properties, principally low alloy steels and heat-treatable stainless steels. It is a sensitive Non-Destructive testing method for detecting surface and near-surface cracks and discontinuities.
  • ULTRASONICS: Ultrasonic inspection (UT) utilizes sound waves at frequencies between 2.5 to 20 MHz. UT is used mainly for thickness testing and flaw detection in solid materials that can support sound waves – all metals, plastics, glass, and carbon fiber. 
  • LIQUID PENETRANT: Liquid penetrant (LPI) testing services are reliable for detecting surface-breaking flaws in just about any solid material with a non-porous surface. 
So could NDT have helped?

The short answer here is “YES,” but we are not saying that proper testing was not conducted; we are emphasizing the importance of NDT testing for aircraft safety. Lastly, many can argue that a crash was prevented due to the testing conducted before this flight.

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