Aircraft Engine Structural Inspection

One of the best methods to double check your visual inspection findings is to supplement them with one of the forms of nondestructive testing, such as magnetic particle inspect, dye penetrate inspection, eddy current, ultrasound, and x-ray. Defects in nonmagnetic parts (aluminum parts) can be found by all these methods except for magnetic particle inspect, which is used for magnetic or ferrous materials (steel).

Dye Penetrant Inspection

Dye penetrant inspection is a nondestructive test for defects open to the surface in parts made of any nonporous material. It is used with equal success on such metals as aluminum, magnesium, brass, copper, cast iron, stainless steel, and titanium. Dye penetrant inspection uses a penetrating liquid that enters a surface opening and remains there, making it clearly visible to the inspector. It calls for visual examination of the part after it has been processed, increasing the visibility of the defect so that it can be detected. Visibility of the penetrating material is increased by the addition of one of two types of dye: visible or fluorescent. When using a fluorescent dye, the inspection is accomplished using an ultraviolet (UV) light source (black light).

The steps for performing a dye penetrant inspection are:
  1. Thorough cleaning of the metal surface.
  2. Applying penetrant.
  3. Removing penetrant with remover emulsifier or cleaner.
  4. Drying the part.
  5. Applying the developer.
  6. Inspecting and interpreting results.

Eddy Current Inspection

Eddy currents are composed of free electrons under the influence of an induced electromagnetic field, that are made to drift through metal. Different meter readings are seen when the same metal is in different hardness states. Readings in the affected area are compared with identical materials in known unaffected areas for comparison. A difference in readings indicates a difference in the hardness state of the affected area. Eddy current inspection can frequently be performed without removing the surface coatings, such as primer, paint, and anodized films. It can be effective in detecting surface and subsurface corrosion, pots, and heat treat condition.

Ultrasonic Inspection

Ultrasonic detection equipment makes it possible to locate defects in all types of materials. There are three basic ultrasonic inspection methods:
  1. Pulse-echo
  2. Through transmission
  3. Resonance


Flaws are detected by measuring the amplitude of signals reflected and the time required for these signals to travel between specific surfaces and the discontinuity.

Through Transmission

Through transmission inspection uses two transducers, one to generate the pulse and another placed on the opposite surface to receive it. A disruption in the sound path indicates a flaw and is displayed on the instrument screen. Through transmission is less sensitive to small defects than the pulseecho method.


This system differs from the pulse-echo method, in that the frequency of transmission may be continuously varied. The resonance method is principally used for thickness measurements when the two sides of the material being tested are smooth and parallel, and the backside is inaccessible. The point at which the frequency matches the resonance point of the material being tested is the thickness determining factor.

Magnetic Particle Inspection

Magnetic particle inspection is a method of detecting invisible cracks and other defects in ferromagnetic materials, such as iron and steel. It is not applicable to nonmagnetic materials. The inspection process consists of magnetizing the part, and then applying ferromagnetic particles to the surface area to be inspected. The ferromagnetic particles (indicating medium) may be held in suspension in a liquid that is flushed over the part; the part may be immersed in the suspension liquid; or the particles, in dry powder form, may be dusted over the surface of the part. The wet process is more commonly used in the inspection of aircraft parts.If a discontinuity is present, the magnetic lines of force are disturbed, and opposite poles exist on either side of the discontinuity. The magnetized particles form a pattern in the magnetic field between the opposite poles. This pattern, known as an indication, assumes the approximate shape of the surface projection of the discontinuity. A discontinuity may be defined as an interruption in the normal physical structure or configuration of a part.


X-rays can penetrate material and disclose discontinuities through the metal or non-metal components, making it an excellent inspection process when needed to determine the structural integrity of an engine component. The penetrating radiation is projected through the part to be inspected and produces an invisible or latent image in the film. When processed, the film becomes a radiograph, or shadow picture, of the object. This inspection medium, as a portable unit, provides a fast and reliable means for checking the integrity of engine components.

Additional and more thorough information on NDT inspection is covered in detail in the Nondestructive Inspection/Testing (Part 1) and Nondestructive Inspection/Testing (Part 2).