Waldrop wins prize for inspection method

By Kristi Langenbacher

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Rusty Waldrop has brought national recognition and top honors to the Aviation Logistics Center and its Engineering Services Division. Waldrop, the program manager for the Non-Destructive Inspections Program, received the grand prize at the 2015 Department of Defense Maintenance Innovation Challenge.

Nearly 70 submissions from every military branch competed for the most innovative ways of improving effectiveness and efficiency in maintenance practices. Waldrop was among the top six who were invited to present their innovations to a panel of industry and defense department senior executives at the 2015 Department of Defense Maintenance Symposium in Phoenix, Ariz., on Dec. 9.

Waldrop’s submission of the Coast Guard Aviation Bonded Material Inspection System beat out entries from around the country for the top award. The Non-Destructive Inspections Program is a fleet sustainment program within the Airworthiness Sustainment Branch of the Engineering Services Division at Aviation Logistics Center.

Lt. Cmdr. Marc LaNore, Airworthiness Sustainment Branch chief, said the technology is a composite material inspection capability which has revolutionized the efficiency and effectiveness of inspecting the integrity of layered or bonded aircraft components.

The Coast Guard had been inspecting the components using the dated method of tap testing, literally using a solid metal object to tap the surface while a technician listens for sounds indicating an anomaly, Waldrop said.

The tap testing is subjective and has unreliable variables, but the BMT test is more reliable. The portable hand-held machine resembles a depth-finder used for fishing. The device utilizes bond testing software and digital electronics and provides several indicators of anomalies, including a variety of visual and audible alerts.

“There is no question that the program is more effective than the tapping,” Waldrop said. “And, there’s no debate over the findings.”

The advances in the field of non-destructive inspection produced BMT technology which interrogates bonded materials for skin-to-core and inner ply separations layer by layer, and can typically be inspected during scheduled maintenance evolutions, he said.

“These composites are lightweight and stronger, and more aircraft are being made of them,” Waldrop said. “And this technology allows certified technicians to inspect these components beyond just the manufacturing stage. They can now be inspected out in the field.”

LaNore said other military services are using the same technology, but the Coast Guard’s success with the program is due to Waldrop’s administration, and the way he has implemented the technology.

“This award is a direct result of a program manager really putting the resources in the right place and training the fleet,” he said. “That’s essentially why this works.”

The Coast Guard invested in the BMT technology, and has trained unit-level personnel across its operational and depot maintenance facilities, developed and implemented maintenance procedures and fielded portable BMT tester units.

Waldrop said the program’s success is a result of many people at Aviations Logistic Center and across the country.

“There are a lot of people involved in this,” Waldrop said, noting that the center’s warehouse helps with getting the equipment where it needs to be and that personnel from air stations throughout the Coast Guard contribute to the program’s success.

LaNore is hoping to bring another staff member into the Non-Destructive Inspections program because its success is resulting in a sharp increase in workload. He would like to get an extra staff member to allow Waldrop to spread out the tasks of training, travel, program management and administrative tasks.

“He single-handedly has driven this program, and he is considered an expert in the field, the DOD (Department of Defense) and the Coast Guard fleet,” he said.

LaNore said the award helps show the much larger Department of Defense that the smaller Coast Guard is contributing an extremely viable program.

“We want to be looked at as having a seat at the big table,” he said.

Winning the award against submission from Navair Fleet Readiness Center, Naval Undersea Warfare Center, Honeywell, and the Navy’s SUBSAFE Program is likely a step in that direction, and was a surprise for Waldrop.

“The guys I competed with really had some good stuff, and I didn’t expect to win at all,” he said.

Waldrop has worked for the government for 36 years, including four years on active duty in the Marines. He also served in the Air Force Reserves and has worked as a civilian for the Navy and Coast Guard. Waldrop started working for the Coast Guard in 2002 at the Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, when the Non-Destructive Inspections technology was fairly new to the Coast Guard.

In 2014 when he first began teaching the new BMT technology, Waldrop spent nearly a year on the road traveling to Coast Guard Air Stations around the country. He trained new inspectors at each air station, as well as in Pensacola.

Currently, each of the Coast Guard’s 26 air stations now has an average of six certified inspectors. The inspectors are typically second or third-class aviation maintenance technicians; new inspectors spend three weeks in Pensacola becoming certified. Inspectors come to Pensacola for recertification every three years for a one-week course. Waldrop teaches each of the two courses two times a year.

Since 2002, the Non-Destructive Inspections program within the Coast Guard has increased from two certified inspectors to 180.

Waldrop said receiving the award also allowed him to tell others about the program, including Rear Adm. Bruce Baffer, the Coast Guard’s Assistant Commandant for Engineering and Logistics.

“We had a good conversation about ALC (Aviations Logistic Center) and the importance of this technology,” Waldrop said. “When would I ever have had the opportunity to talk to someone like him about this?”

Waldrop also spoke to people at the Pentagon, who contacted him after he won the award, and asked him to discuss the program further over the phone with about 1,000 people listening in.

“This has provided me with a platform to not only talk about the importance of the program, but to also tell people about the importance of the Coast Guard,” Waldrop said.

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