JOINT BASE LANGELY-EUSTIS, Va. --
An F-22 Raptor aircraft rips through the clouds toward its target, ready to engage, while an ominous patch of dark sky forms in the distance.
As the pilot closes in, the radio awakens and barks “abort mission.”
The massive thunderstorm that could cause catastrophic damage, or possible death, if it were to make contact with the aircraft decides the reason for aborting the mission.
These lifesaving calls are made by 1st Operations Support Squadron weather forecasters at Joint Base Langley-Eustis.
“People could die,” said Tech. Sgt. Grant Kiekhaefer, 1st OSS weather forecaster. “People have been struck by lightning, planes swept out of the sky by turbulence, and there are times when explosive thunder storms can take place in the blink of an eye. Conditions [can develop] on top of aircrews, and [sometimes] they can’t do anything about it and lives are lost.”
The weather information that is provided to pilots dictates how the mission is planned, briefed and executed.
According to Capt. Zeus, 94th Fighter Squadron F-22 instructor pilot and flight commander, every morning the pilots rely on the weather flight to provide weather products before the pilots step for flight. The weather briefs provided paint a picture of what air space is usable and what areas are restricted.
When providing weather briefs to pilots, the forecasters will gather every aspect related to weather that could affect take-off, in-flight and landing conditions to ensure the pilots can accomplish their mission on a real-life objective.
“When our guys have a real-life mission objective, they are going to have a precise location to where they are going to drop ordinance,” Keikhaefer said. “[Pilots] will give us the information of where the location is and then we use the tools we have to provide them with a target acquisition data forecast, which will give them very precise information on cloud depth, temperatures, dew points, wind, wind direction, sky condition and anything that could impact that ordinance from hitting its target.”
If a forecaster were to give pilots inaccurate weather information, not only is the pilot’s life in danger but civilian and friendly forces lives could also be adversely affected.
“Without precise weather information, that could be the difference between enemy and civilian casualties,” Keikhaefer said. “If an ordinance falls 500 feet in the wrong direction, that could make a world of difference for the civilians.”
According to Keikhaefer, the greatest reward is knowing the information he provided resulted in a successful and safe mission for the pilots.
“For me, it feels great,” Keikhaefer said. “Especially when I see an airplane take-off and head into the conditions and elements, then have them come back safely. That’s just a check in the box and a win for the weather crew.”