Rain or shine: Weather flight keeps aircraft flying
By Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant, 23d Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 25, 2015
MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Every day, weather affects what people do - from when they get dressed, to what they will do during the day to how they can travel.
At Moody, weather can affect how the mission will be accomplished and the Airmen responsible for providing that forecast belong to the 23d Operational Support Squadron weather flight.
"Our main purpose is to maintain resource protection from any kind of severe weather events that may damage any of the aircraft, on station or in transit," said U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Lucas Payne, 23d OSS weather technician.
Before pilots enter the cockpit to any aircraft, a weather technician must brief them on the current conditions in the local area.
"I work with the 74th, 75th and 81st Fighter Squadrons to provide written and verbal briefings to the pilots," said Senior Airman Christopher McWilliams, 23d OSS weather technician. "I stand in front of a room of pilots who have to trust me with what I'm thinking as far as weather goes. The main goal is to keep the pilots and the aircraft safe."
All of Moody's pilots or anyone who's flying, to include aircrew members or pararescue jumpers, have to be briefed by the weather flight on local conditions for safety purposes.
"We typically get calls from the [820th] Base Defense Group when they want to know about the winds for the jumps they do out of the [HC-130J Combat King IIs] and for their remotely-piloted aircraft that they fly sometimes," said Payne.
The weather flight combines information provided by the Southeast weather hub, located at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., with their own observations to provide forecasts to Moody. The hub provides an overall report for the day and Moody forecasters take that information and create specific reports for two-hour periods throughout the day.
"We take the information Barksdale gives us and create a tailored Mission Execution Forecast that's broken down every two hours," said McWilliams. "It's a pretty in-depth product that's broken down into what kind of conditions will occur in our area at specific takeoff times. They'll discuss what they see based off what they are looking at and what the forecaster knows about the area. [For example], in South Georgia it's likely to storm at 4 p.m. during the summer."
Though, at home station, weather may be predictable, in a deployed location, forecasts can be more difficult to calculate.
"[At home station], we know what time people are taking off," said Master Sgt. Brian Bridges, 23d OSS weather flight chief. "Down range, we need to move quickly and may need to have the information within minutes instead of within hours. It's a lot more thinking on your feet and being a lot more flexible than you are here because you never know what's going to happen."
To ensure they calculate the forecast properly the weather flight uses a Tactical Meteorological Observing System to determine forecasts while deployed. At home, they use FMQ-19s, or automated weather sensors, on both sides of the flightline.
"If that sensor breaks, is not working properly or if we feel that it's not representing the conditions, we can tweak it or augment the observation," said McWilliams. "For example, it might pick up overcast clouds that are 100-feet in the air. If that's not true and that's holding up operations, we can go in and make slight adjustments. Safety and practicality is our number one concern."
The weather flight works along with air traffic controllers to provide the forecast to keep the pilots and aircrew safe while in the air.
"Whenever the weather flight sends us the observation, we type it into a computer that reads it out to the pilots," said Senior Airman Tyler Shelton, 23d OSS air traffic controller. "It reads the time, the visibility, what level the clouds are at, the temperature and more.
"If the weather is, [for example], overcast, the pilots are restricted to doing certain types of approaches," Shelton added. "Whereas, when the skies are clear, they can do any sort of tactical recovery procedures. It's important that they're getting us the information as quickly as possible so we can broadcast it to the pilots."
Whether rain, shine or lightning within five, the weather flight will continuously provide a forecast to ensure safety for all Moody personnel.