OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
Two Airmen from the 26th Operational Weather Squadron got to experience the weather they normally only forecast when they donned flight suits and took to the skies at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, Feb. 21, 2019.
Tech. Sgt. Chris Bieber, 26th OWS shift supervisor, and Senior Airman McKayla Dejohnette, 26th OWS weather forecaster, received the opportunity to see firsthand how their weather products affect the mission when they took a familiarization flight on two F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft from the 4th Fighter Wing’s 333rd Fighter Squadron.
“Seeing how important low cloud forecasts are to their planning process from a firsthand perspective will allow me to stress that importance to the 26th OWS forecasters,” Bieber said. “Doing our job without actually seeing the impact it has on the pilots can convolute the importance of what we do. This is especially true of a feature like low clouds as opposed to something more obvious like thunderstorms.”
Based out of Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, the 26th OWS is one of six operational weather squadrons in the 557th Weather Wing’s 1st Weather Group. It provides weather operations support for the Southeastern and Southcentral United States as well as the Caribbean.
The 4th FW commander made the offer to provide familiarization on the impacts of weather to their mission as well as to show appreciation for the 26th OWS’ support during Hurricane Florence.
For pilots in the 333rd FS, weather can affect a mission in a number of ways.
“The main reason that an accurate weather forecast is important to us is because weather and associate hazards can create a major safety concern,” said Capt. Matthew Mooney, a 333rd FS F-15E pilot. “We need to evaluate the risks of the various weather hazards and whether conditions will allow us to takeoff, transit and land safely.”
Mooney added, “Second, an accurate forecast allows us to tailor our mission or airspace to ensure we can get an effective training mission accomplished. In combat, we may be willing to accept more risk, but we might need to alter our tactics, weapon selection or delivery profile in order to achieve our desired weapons effects.”
According to Maj. Breen Williams, 26th OWS director of operations, it’s not too rare for weather personnel working at a base’s local weather flight to receive familiarization flights but it’s rare for an organization outside of that flying wing’s chain of command.
Flying in an F-15E required the 26th OWS Airmen to go through special preparations and training.
“There was a lot more to it than I initially thought after having flown on some other, larger aircraft,” Bieber said. “The need for personalized, fitted equipment meant that we had to spend a lot of time in the 333rd FS aircrew flight equipment shop. We also had to do a flight physical where we were evaluated, then briefed on potential physiological effects we could face and we received ejection seat training to account for emergency scenarios.”
The 26th OWS Airmen also got to experience the effects bad weather can have on a mission.
“The day of the flight we were supposed to depart in the morning, but the flight was cancelled due to weather,” Dejohnette said. “Getting to experience the impact that weather has when it comes to preparing for a flight and the takeoff was very helpful. We watched the process after a flight is delayed, learning the real importance of accurate forecasts for go and no-go calls.”
After conditions improved, the two 26th OWS Airmen were able to go up in the afternoon.
“The flight was an incredible experience,” Bieber said. “It was awe inspiring to witness the view and the capabilities of the aircraft as well as those of the pilots. At the same time it was very physically taxing and gave me a lot of respect for the training and conditioning that the pilots have to go through.”