MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. - He heads to his locker to get his gear sorted and make sure he has everything ready to begin work in the frigid weather. It's 6:30 a.m., 27 degrees below zero and the sky remains dark.
On top of his multiple layers he wears thick coveralls. His heavy duty boots allow him to trudge through ice and snow while his face is guarded by a face shield and shatter-proof snow goggles.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Taylor Lancaster, 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft crew chief, guides a truck to a trailer on Minot Air Force Base, N.D., Jan. 9, 2015. The truck was hitched to a trailer that holds all of the tools the Airmen need for the jet to transport to other jets as needed. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sahara L. Fales)
At roll call, the maintenance team gathers together where they are told what jets need to be repaired; then everyone gets to work.
Though they all work together to meet the needs of the mission, each crew chief is assigned a specific jet they are responsible for maintaining.
After being at Minot for over three years, Senior Airman Taylor Lancaster, 5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron aircraft crew chief, has worked on his jet enough to know exactly what it'll need once it lands.
"Every jet is different, especially in the cold," Lancaster said. "I love working on my jet because when it lands, I already know what needs to be serviced."
The maintenance team hops on the truck headed to the tool crib. They load up with all of the equipment they'll need for the day and head out to their designated jets.
Around 8:30 a.m. the sun begins to rise, allowing the flight line to defrost ever so slightly, as the cold weather and ice lingers.
"During the winter, what would normally be a 10 minute job takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour," Lancaster said.
Some of the harsh winter days Minot has can cause things on the jets to break easier meaning more work for maintenance Airmen.
With temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero and blizzard like conditions, getting simple things done can become a tedious task, Lancaster said.
"Training new Airmen can be a bit of a task when winter time rolls around," Lancaster said. "Since it's so cold, we can only spend so long out there before we have to go back inside and warm up."
For the past two years Lancaster worked mid-shift, which began at 11 p.m. and ended at 7 a.m.
"It wasn't uncommon for me to go the whole work week without seeing the sun," Lancaster said. "Now a days, it's still dark when I get to work, but at least I get to see the sunrise and the sunset."
"It's a great feeling to know that if I spent all night working on my jet in the cold, when the aircrew shows up they will have a good jet," he added.
Because temperatures are known to potentially reach dangerous lows, maintenance members implement the buddy system to ensure safety while getting the mission done.
Once the weather is less than 45 degrees below zero, maintenance on certain sections of the flight line shuts down temporarily. However, because temperatures read differently across the flight line, this means the maintenance team's duty is to now provide maintenance for a different aircraft.
Although the job can be tough at times, Lancaster tries to remind newer Airmen the mission is important.
"Sometimes it's hard to see the big picture when we're out there working in these kinds of temperatures, but we have to remember what we're doing is meaningful," he added.
Currently, Lancaster is working on getting flight certified, which will provide him the opportunity to fly with the aircrew and allow him to work on his jet as soon as it lands in various locations.
"I wanted to do this because it gets me more involved," Lancaster said. "It's a great feeling to be able to get up in the jet that I worked on and take off with the aircrew."
With three years under his belt, Lancaster hasn't made any final decisions on whether he's going to re-enlist, but the future seems to be getting brighter.
"It was hard for me to really look ahead when I first got here," Lancaster said. "Now that I'm comfortable, confident and getting more responsibilities handed down to me, it's making me realize that I know what I'm doing and no matter what I know I can do it."
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Sahara Fales
Provided through DVIDS
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