Weather flight forecasts ensure mission efficiency

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Clinton Atkins
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
As the thunder rolls and the lightning strikes in the distance, aircrews at an air base in Southwest Asia stand by eagerly waiting on the seemingly clairvoyant counsel of Airmen in a specialized unit there.

Weathermen in the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron Weather Flight here provide timely and accurate weather forecasts for U.S. and coalition aircraft. By determining specific weather conditions, the weather flight specialists enable aircrews to plan and adjust mission requirements accordingly.

"Our job is to provide weather support for all missions flying to (areas of operations in the Horn of Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan)," said Staff Sgt. Kevin Fedon, a 379th EOSS weather flight forecaster. "We keep abreast with what's going on in all three theaters. We have two stations within our office to track weather locally and abroad.

"We do individual weather briefings in-house and we also send flying units our compiled data, in which we'll provide specific information for their destination," said Sergeant Fedon, a Lincoln, Neb., native. "In the briefs is detailed information about flight level winds, flight hazards such as thunderstorms, icing and turbulence, which can all affect the route of flight."

High winds seem to be the most common weather concern here, he said.

"Some aircraft can take higher winds than others," said Staff Sgt. Seth Kaelin, a 379th EOSS Weather Flight forecaster. "Depending on what direction they come from, a crosswind of 25 to 30 knots over the runway can prevent an aircraft from landing or taking off."

The same is true for the maintainers on the flight line.

"High winds can affect the work on the tarmac, for example. If you have winds greater than 25 knots, some planes can't be jacked up to do certain work," said Sergeant Fedon, an Air National Guardsman from the 170th Group at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

High winds are always an issue in Southwest Asia, but as the base starts to experience the regional winter weather trends, an increasingly prevalent menace begins to encumber the mission: fog.

"With fog, we'll give (the flying unit) the best forecast possible that allows them to plan ahead of time," he said. "If they know ahead of time they can give an aircraft more fuel because they won't be able to land in thick fog. When that happens, the control tower has to defer the plane to another base, in which there can sometimes be landing clearance issues with host nations."

With real-time specialized instrumentation, the weather flight Airmen scan the skies relentlessly all day every day in hopes of keeping any aircraft away from unfavorable weather conditions.

"The weather here may be beautiful, but there may be a sandstorm in central Iraq," Sergeant Kaelin said. "Flying units need that information from us so they can plan their missions accordingly. Planes can't land in sandstorms or provide air support for troops on the ground in bad weather."

Even in clear skies, something as little as the temperature and humidity will affect the way weapons operate, said Sergeant Kaelin, a Sewell, N.J., native deployed from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.

"Forecasting weather isn't as cut and dry as some people may think," he said. "There are a lot of different variables we have to take into account. Every aircraft is affected differently.

"Some targeting systems can't operate well in certain weather conditions," he said. "Units have to know when a target is going to be the same temperature as the background because an infrared missile will not lock on. If the sun is rising in the east and they're coming in from the west, the temperature of the target is going to be different depending what side you are on."

The forecasters know exactly what is at stake. If the proper forecast isn't disseminated, lives on the ground and in the air could be lost.

"If we don't give (the flyers) accurate information, ground forces aren't going to have the close-air support," Sergeant Kaelin said.

"Getting the information as accurate as possible is our greatest priority," he said. "Every time a mission is complete it gives me a great sense of pride."