Weather Airmen see whether Unified Protectors fly
By Senior Airman David Dobrydney, 313th Air Expeditionary Wing
/ Published April 08, 2011
WESTERN EUROPE -- Even the perfectly planned mission cannot be executed if the weather does not cooperate.
Aircrews supporting Operation Unified Protector, a NATO-led operation designed to protect the civilian population of Libya, look to the Airmen in the weather office here to make sure they have a smooth flight.
"Weather can make or break a mission," said Maj. Jay Newton, an Air National Guard pilot deployed here from the 171st Air Refueling Wing, Pittsburgh, Pa. Without an accurate weather analysis telling them where good weather is, tanker crews would be unable to get aircraft into position for refueling.
Capt. Viveca Lane, another guardsman pilot from the 126th Air Refueling Wing, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., described some of the challenges weather can pose for refueling, including cloud cover and turbulence.
"We want the receiver to be visual with the pilot being refueled," she said. "If the area is socked in with clouds, we'll try different altitudes or even a different area. We'll do what it takes to get that fuel offloaded, but if the weather is too turbulent, we're not going to let that jet get close to us."
Captain Lane said a good weather forecast allows crews to have a back-up plan if the weather in the area of responsibility is expected to be bad.
"A good weather person is just as critical as a pilot or the maintenance crew," said Major Newton.
To provide continuous weather support with the large influx of planes and personnel, three Airmen from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, deployed to assist the single weather Airman already stationed here.
"This went from limited-duty to a 24/7 weather station," said 1st Lt. Zachariah Reinebold, weather officer.
Even as the weather team here has been augmented, they still rely on Airmen elsewhere in Europe. The 21st Operational Weather Squadron at Sembach Kaserne, Germany, provides airfield forecasts for the area, as well as aerial refueling forecasts. From those reports, Lieutenant Reinebold and his team compose the mission execution forecasts for the aircrews.
Because of the location's original limited-duty status, extra equipment had to be brought in to increase the range of the weather forecasting equipment already in place.
Additionally, the weather advisories being issued were not geared to any particular aircraft. However, once set up, the deployed Airmen didn't find it difficult to tailor their products to the 313th AEW's aerial refueling mission.
"We all have airlift support experience, so it was an easy transition," said Lieutenant Reinebold.
In addition to the aircrews, Sergeant Ordorff said the weather reports are also used by the maintenance crews.
"There's only so much they can do in some weather conditions," he said.
In turn, the weather Airmen also provide "boots on the ground" details, feeding information about the area back to the 21st OWS.
"It's a team effort," said Lieutenant Reinebold.