Mildenhall weather flight clears skies

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tim Hoffman
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Rain, rain and more rain. Some people may think it is a snap to predict the weather in England, but that is not the case.

"It's a real challenge to predict past 48 hours here," said Capt. Brian Pukall, 100th Operations Support Squadron weather flight commander. "There's just little information available from the time a weather system leaves the East Coast of the United States until it gets here."

With no direct observation, the forecasters have only satellite information to rely on, while in the meantime, weather systems change rapidly while crossing the Atlantic. This makes extended forecasting difficult.

Yet, the information the weather flight provides is critical for aircrews who fly in Europe and for missions to most parts of Africa.

"Wind, clouds, icing and turbulence can all play a role in a flying mission," Pukall said.

"For the (KC-135 Stratotankers), we also look closely at the refueling tracks. Sometimes, the crew may decide to alter the place or the time they hit the tracks to avoid poor weather."

Air refueling tracks are located in designated airspace where tanker aircraft meet and refuel receiver aircraft. Sometimes, they are several hours flying time from their home station.

"What we do is give the crews information they need to minimize risks from all forms of weather phenomena," Pukall said. "In effect, we help them make better decisions when it comes to operational risk management."

The expertise of the 16-person flight is called upon every day around the clock, and its not easy to come by because the career field is so technical.

"We are forecasters, observers, work-group managers, combat engineers and radar equipment troubleshooters," said Staff Sgt. Michael Louridas, training noncommissioned officer for the flight. "Most people don't realize there are 27 different types of clouds, let alone how to identify them and predict what effect they will have on the forecast."

Besides the 100th Air Refueling Wing, 95th Reconnaissance Squadron and Navy aircraft based here, the weather team also takes care of many transient aircraft.

"We give seven to 10 weather briefings a day, plus several updates," said Staff Sgt. Trevor Crane, a weather forecaster. "Many times, aircrews are only on the ground here for an hour or two, and they just need to reverify the weather information they received before they left their last airfield."

"There are six regional operational weather squadrons who provide forecasts and consolidate information for their area of responsibility," Pukall said. "For Europe, it's located at Sembach Air Base, Germany. We talk to them several times a day to update each other's information. This constant interaction ensures our customers get the most up-to-date and accurate information we have." (Courtesy of U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service)