Forecasting for the fight

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Betty R. Chevalier
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

SAVANNAH, GA -- Keeping aircraft airborne safely is a top priority during every mission. While maintenance teams put their hands on the jet to keep it mechanically safe, pilots need to know what environmental factors could limit their flight. Keeping them prepared is the 325th Operational Support Squadrons weather flight.

For Sentry Savannah 22-1, held May 2-13, 2022, the 325th OSS sent two forecasters to Savannah, Georgia, to help create weather reports alongside Air National Guard personnel, and ensure all pilots participating were prepared for present and pending weather before they ever stepped to their jets.

“As forecasters we're trying to maintain safety of the mission,” explained Senior Airman Cole Smith, 325th OSS weather forecaster. “In terms of that, it'll be observed conditions as well as forecasted conditions for the airspace. This can be anything from possible rain showers coming in the afternoons, looking at our products that allow us to kind of correlate and find out what's going to be happening in the atmosphere, that way our pilots are more prepared for their missions.”

Sentry Savannah brought in approximately 60 aircraft from nine units across the regular Air Force, ANG and Air Force Reserve components. Luckily for Team Tyndall, the Air Dominance Center and their respective range has similar weather patterns the forecasters handle in the Florida Panhandle, but that doesn’t mean challenges aren’t there.

Airman 1st Class Nila Vo, 325th OSS weather forecaster, explained different aircraft have different limitations when it comes to the weather. Since they are briefing the pilots, being knowledgeable on the restrictions is vital for pilot safety. Additionally, the team was presented with different resources.

“We don't have a direct airfield sensor working here nor do we have our normal specialized radar which allows us to interpret thunderstorm cells and things of that nature,” Smith said. “These help us give that higher situational awareness, but we still get the job done (without them).”

Before pilots arrive for their first flights, forecasters are already in the squadron analyzing weather and building a tailored brief that applies to their specific airfield, flight locations and mission. Vo explained forecasters monitor the landing and takeoff conditions also while constructing a mission execution forecast. For this training, the MEF addressed the predicted weather hourly, plus a five-day period, for the airport as well as approximately 30,000 square miles of airspace.

With the 325th Fighter Wing flying units geographically-separated at Eglin AFB, Florida, the weather flight primarily provides briefings to visiting units. While on assignment to Savannah, the forecasters were able to work directly with 325th FW units.

“Being here, it makes you more personable with the pilots because you’re step-briefing from them every day,” said Smith. “Being able to get the face-time, having people recognize you; that will build that trust as a forecaster to a pilot and I think that's very invaluable.”

In addition to building relationships with the pilots, Sentry Savannah gave these forecasters an opportunity the learn a different perspective from traditional Guardsmen and also pass on their skills.

“The benefit of working with our ANG counterpart is not only experience, but also the wealth of products these other forecasters have used which we are being shown,” said Smith. “Our fellow forecasters have different tools that we are able to add to the toolbox we already pull out of. This helps us be able to hone in and fine-tune our forecasts as well as real-time observed weather elements.”

Maintaining air dominance is a key focus of the Department of the Air Force mission. It may be the maintainers turning wrenches to keep aircraft in the sky and pilots behind the throttles ensuring the airspace is clear, but the 325th OSS weather flight is making sure they are prepared for Mother Nature.