MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --
The sun peaks over the horizon to reveal the icy minefield known as the flight line. Airmen are bundled from head to toe in thermal underwear, thick coveralls, gloves and multiple headgear, but these comforting layers don’t keep them from getting the job done.
The crew huddles in the back of a white van, speeding off to their aircraft. Teamwork is crucial during this time, ensuring nobody stays in the cold for too long and the mission requirements are met.
Behind every great aircraft is a great crew. At the base where ‘Only the Best Come North’, the B-52H Stratofortresses stand tall with help from dedicated Airmen.
5th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chiefs are assigned to Minot Air Force Base’s B-52s in crews of 3-10 Airmen to ensure every aircraft is well maintained from the time it lands to the next time it takes off.
“We’re the stewards for not only the aircraft, but the maintenance as well,” said Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Tullis, 5th AMXS B-52 crew chief. “We need to know about every single person’s job to assist and direct maintenance under our aircraft.”
These Airmen assigned to an aircraft are ultimately held responsible for it. Crew chiefs, as subject matter experts on their aircraft, are in charge of determining if maintenance is needed and will direct Airmen from separate career fields on what needs to be done.
“We need to not only be qualified in our job, but also qualified in other maintenance fields,” said Tullis. “We can service struts, hydraulics, reservoirs and more. If our job is done, we’re asking others what they need help on.”
They perform detailed inspections, servicing, pre-flight recovery, launches and landings along with many other duties.
“Our job is everything from the time the plane lands to the time it takes off,” said Tullis. “That’s why you see a crew chief’s name on the side of a jet. If someone has a question about the aircraft, they can come to us for an answer.”
Crew chiefs are located around the world, but Minot AFB is unique. Normal working hours consist of 40 minutes working, 20 off. During the winter, this changes to 30 on and off, and a heater is placed next to the plane.
“It takes a special someone to be able to work out in mostly negative temperatures through half the year,” said Tullis. “We are required to take breaks to ensure we stay warm and don’t get injured.”
The lowest temperatures recorded within the past few years was minus 68 degrees, not including the wind chill.
“The maintenance is not the hard part,” said Senior Airman Matthew Bitz, 5th AMXS B-52 crew chief. “We have the ability to do our job, it’s just doing it in the conditions we have to. Aircrafts don’t behave the same way they would in 70 degree weather.”
Even with this in mind, Minot AFB crew chiefs don’t give up. Tasks take longer to complete, but that hasn’t broken the morale of these Airmen.
“If someone asked me if I loved my job, I’d be standing and screaming, staying highly motivated every single day,” said Bitz. “After a while, you learn that the small tasks you are doing are going toward the big picture. We’re putting jets in the sky and supporting nuclear deterrence. Knowing this, it starts to give you and your team morale.”
“We’re doing what we need to do to protect the way of life in America,” added Tullis.