MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Four people in the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base are certified as transporter erector drivers.
Staff Sgt. Brian R. Tafoya, a member of the 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron's Missile Handling Team Section, provided information to The Minot Daily News about driving the transporter erector in the Minot missile field. The squadron is a unit of the base's 91st Missile Wing.
The missile wing, led by Col. Fred Stoss, has 150 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in underground facilities or launch facilities in the Minot missile field.
Tafoya, of Albuquerque, N.M., has been in the Air Force for six years. Before coming into the Air Force, he said the largest vehicle he drove was a moving van.
The transporter erector transports the 91st Missile Wing's Minuteman III downstages, Tafoya said.
"When loaded, the TE carries a hazard classification code of 1.3C (mass fire, minor blast or fragment). This code is maintained by maintenance professionals assigned to AFGSC (Air Force Global Strike Command). They're there to ensure every element of our mission maintains a specific continuity across the command," he said.
A loaded transporter erector weighs 144,000 pounds and when it is not loaded, it weighs 67,000 pounds. It is 12-feet wide, 13-feet high and 69-feet long Tafoya said.
In the missile field
He explained driving on the roads in the North Dakota missile field and the conditions.
"There are, in fact, a lot of narrow roads throughout the missile complex. At least annually, the 5th Civil Engineer Squadron inspects all roads we use to ensure they meet our specific requirements put down by Air Force Global Strike Command professionals. Based on those surveys, 5th CES and the 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron have mapped out routes that are Transporter Erector road worthy.
"Because of the size and weight of these vehicles, TEs have to stay in the center of the gravel road while traveling. Furthermore, road conditions vary day-to-day.
"The day before we put a TE on the road, we have an experienced TE driver, a convoy commander and someone from CES survey the route to make sure it's safe for us to use. For example, if we have a trip planned for Thursday, we will run a route survey on Wednesday. If something changes (weather, construction, etc.) after we conduct that initial survey that makes our leadership determine the conditions might be questionable, we will perform another route survey early in the morning before we leave the base. Given these road assessments, there are times when we determine it's smarter to cancel our maintenance than risk driving under questionable conditions. Such calls ensure AFGSC airmen in the missile field maintain the highest security and safety measures in the Air Force," Tafoya said.
In the oil field
"Oil field traffic? Try just traffic in general. I do all I can and then some to prepare for a TE operation before, during and after. I have very extensive training, but once we're out on the road the risk increases due to the fact that we share the roads with all the other drivers with varied experience levels. Oil-field traffic specifically actually goes very well. In fact, I have come across oil-field tractors and they typically do whatever they can to give us plenty of space. This only provides for greater mission success of AFGSC airmen," Tafoya said.
He elaborated on the oil-field traffic giving him adequate space, despite all of them being on some narrow roads.
"Yes. Because we always drive in a convoy, our lead vehicle gives on-coming traffic plenty of advance notice so they have time to adjust accordingly. Everyone out there has a job to do so we do our best to work together to get things done safely. Safety is a paramount concern for all AFGSC airmen," he said.
Stringent driving course
The transporter erector drivers go through a special driving course.
"We use Command Vehicle Operator Training as our Air Force driving program. It is more stringent than a Commercial Driver License course.There is a total of 300 miles of driving in CVOT with a tractor trailer only.
"Once an airman graduates from CVOT, he/she will then be placed in TE training and will have to drive another 300 miles before being considered for certification. Even if an airman completes TE training, they still have to be selected to drive before being certified. Operating a TE requires a lot of responsibility and our supervisors make very deliberate assessments on who will be allowed to operate one. These supervisors are inspected annually by career field professionals hand-selected by AFGSC. In addition, TE drivers undergo frequent retesting and reevaluation, and we must be recertified annually," Tafoya said.
Because of the size and weight of the vehicles, transporter erectors are restricted to 55 miles per hour maximum on paved roads, and no more than 25 miles per hour on gravel, Tafoya said.
"If travel conditions are questionable due to fog, rain, snow, ice, etc., we reduce our speeds even further," he said.
Tafoya said their routes and travel times definitely vary.
"I recently drove approximately 97 miles one way. Our total mileage varies between approximately 35 to 100 miles. Obstacles that can affect our total mileage would be weather, traffic or road construction. These are typical to the AFGSC mission."