By Ryan Hansen
Air Force Weather Agency Public Affairs
With an area of 18,500 acres, an elevation gain of 2,800 feet and Pikes Peak only 15 miles to the southwest, staying ahead of the weather here can be difficult.
Add to that an airfield that relies heavily on weather conditions that allow pilots to land by looking outside the cockpit and you have arguably one of the most challenging weather missions in the Air Force.
Facing these diverse conditions everyday from sunrise to sunset are the members of the 306th Operational Support Squadron weather flight. This team of eight contractors, through the airfield services element and mission weather element, are dedicated to providing the Academy family with the best weather information possible.
“We have someone in our office at 3:30 in the morning to work with the 25th Operational Weather Squadron and determine what the day is going to look like,” said Skip Evans, weather flight chief for the 306th OSS. “Once we get a good read on things we start preparing our mission execution forecasts.”
The group has a far-reaching mission that is truly unique in the Air Force. It includes weather support to the Academy and its more than 4,200 cadets, the 10th Air Base Wing and its 2,100 personnel, and the 306th Flying Training Group, which has more than 50 weather-sensitive aircraft.
“Nobody in the Air Force has this kind of mission,” said Ruth Willems, who works in the airfield services element. “But I really like it and I’m glad to be at the Academy doing my part to help these future pilots.”
Providing support to the Academy means keeping the superintendent, commandant, air base wing commander and the flying training group commander in the know on any potential weather issues. This includes not only day-to-day support, but also athletic events, commandant’s challenge activities and various field training exercises.
Unlike most Air Force bases, the focus and mission of the Academy is strictly on academics and supporting the cadets.
“Most Air Force bases exist to support the airfield,” said Mr. Evans, a retired chief master sergeant and has spent a career in Air Force weather. “We exist to support the academic environment.”
While it may not be number one on the priority list, the Academy airfield is still a very important part of the base. It has a traffic count of more than 145,000 flights a year by seven different air frames like sailplanes for the cadet’s soaring program, Cessna trainers for cadet flight training and UV-18A Twin Otters that are used for the cadet parachuting program.
“Obviously gliders and parachutes have to land here if they’re in the air, so it’s absolutely critical that we stay ahead of the weather,” Mr. Evans said.
Helping the flight provide the most up-to-date weather information are quite a few high-tech systems. This includes access to Doppler weather radar, a mesonet consisting of 12 high-wind alert system weather stations, a satellite communications lightning detection system and an automatic meteorological station..
“This is probably one of the most challenging places to forecast that you can find,” said Jeff Rosbach, a forecaster with the mission weather element. “Weather systems simply get lost in the mountains.”
Another concern for the flight is lightning. Colorado Springs is the lightning capital of Colorado and the Academy averages more than 400 lightning warnings a year.
And as if the mission isn’t far reaching enough, Academy officials have plans to add unmanned aircraft to the mix within the next year or so.
So even with its unique mix of aircraft, ongoing extra-curricular activities and constantly changing weather conditions, the weather flight truly enjoys their mission, its diversity and is always up to the task.