The IAF is required to maintain its operational preparedness at any time, regardless of time of day or weather. As winter approaches, we decided to examine the ways aircrew members prepare for flight in extreme weather conditions
There are several meteorological factors to take into account during flight: flying in cloudy skies can give the pilot vertigo and make him lose control of the aircraft; storms and mist may affect visibility; heavy rain is mainly an influence during landing, when the runways are wet and slippery. "Stopping a fighter jet during landing is one of the most complex, dangerous things one can do when flying", said Maj. N', a pilot at the 101st ("First Fighter") Squadron which operates the "Barak" (F-16C/D) fighter jet.
In Extreme Weather
Pre-designated secondary airbases are determined for days with extreme weather conditions – in case the primary airbase doesn't qualify for the necessary visibility conditions, the aircraft will be able to land there. "You're always busy maintaining enough fuel in order to be able to land in the secondary base in case of irregular weather", elaborated Maj. A', a pilot at the 253rd ("Negev") Squadron which operates the "Sufa" (F-16I) aircraft.
Every squadron has a flight manager located in the operations room whose job is to communicate with the control tower and the IAF's Meteorological Unit. Furthermore, he is also in touch with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) Units – in case of irregular weather, he mediates between the forces in the field and the operating aircraft. In such cases, the control towers' role is to notify the ATC Units that the airbase is closed for takeoffs and landings, and these ensure that the aircraft are routed to a different base.
What does one do when low visibility influences takeoff and landing? Perform an instrument approach. Systems located on the runway provide the aircrew members with flight instructions and show them where they are located.
Another flight instrument found in fighter jets is the "artificial horizon": a circle whose top half is white – indicating the sky - and its bottom half is black – indicating the ground. A line splitting the circle in the middle indicates the horizon. "This way you can tell where your aircraft nose is pointing and whether you're climbing or descending", elaborated Maj. A'. Additional instruments located in the jet include an altimeter, an airspeed indicator and a magnetic compass. "I have no special concerns before flying in irregular weather because we prepare thoroughly for such scenarios. Each pilot has to undergo winter training in a simulator while also training in their respective squadrons".
Train Hard, Fight Easy
Cpl. Yarden, a "Sufa" simulator instructor at the 420th ("Fighter Simulator") Squadron, said: "We train every 'Sufa' aircrew member in the IAF. We try to realistically simulate various scenarios which can't be performed in the air". The "Sufa" simulator is located in a room with a 360-degree screen surrounding the cockpit. After the aircrew members have been debriefed, they take off in the simulator while the instructor oversees the sortie.
A sortie of this sort requires quick decision-making. After the sortie ends, the simulator instructor debriefs alongside the aircrew members. "The pilots and WSOs (Weapon System Officers) fly at least three times a day during routine training and operational activity, and they have to be prepared for any scenario in order to know how to operate at the moment of truth", emphasized Col. Yarden.
These scenarios cannot be simulated in real life, but they must be prepared for. The aircrew members' actions inside the simulator will be identical to those performed in real-time, and the scenarios drilled are actual scenarios which have occurred in the past. "I once instructed an aircrew member through a specific sortie, and just one week later he told me that the malfunction we drilled had occurred to him during an actual flight", recalled Cpl. Yarden.
"Sufa" in a Storm
During operational activity, precision is essential. This is where the IAF Meteorological Unit comes in: the IAF's meteorologists can examine the time and location of any sortie and predict the weather that the aircrew members are due to experience.
"Once, as I first started out as a 'Sufa' pilot, I took off on a training sortie alongside every squadron in Ramon AFB when a sandstorm suddenly arrived", recalled Maj. A'. "The airbases began closing down for takeoff and landing one after the other, including Ramon. As a result, we had to fly to Uvda AFB".
"Suddenly, I saw a huge wall of sand coming in from the west", said Maj. A' of the dramatic moment. "The base's runways were overcrowded because every training sortie in Israel was redirected to land there. Only after landing did I realize how difficult it was, but it felt great as well – the airbase was filled with a feeling of success and capability. We can land and operate our aircraft even in complex meteorological conditions".