'Unparalleled' training hits a snag with weather
Stars and Stripes March 17, 2008
KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The white fog was so thick Thursday morning that the flight crews could barely see the outline of the control tower from the taxiway. So they did the same thing they had done for three days. They waited for sun.
“We’re just anxious to go. That’s the frustration — just waiting to get fired off, and the weather’s not cooperating,” said Apache pilot Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shane Smith.
Smith was one of the pilots scheduled to begin training Tuesday, with joint “buddy laze” training with Kunsan F-16 pilots on Wednesday.
But instead of flying and firing, they spent the beginning of the week drinking coffee, trading war stories and waiting for hourly weather updates. They washed the windows of their birds. And on Thursday morning, some waited outside clad in their bulky green “mustang” exposure suits to stay warm.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Adam Parra said waiting this long for the weather to clear before flying is unusual but not unheard of. “We call the weather guys again and again, and say, ‘Are you sure it’s not going to clear up?’” he said.
The crews were to fire Hellfire missiles, what technician Sgt. Luis Chica calls “the most effective weapon we have on the Apache.”
Each Apache shoots a laser toward a target, and the Hellfire seeks out the laser’s energy, letting the laser guide it to its target.
During the buddy laze flights planned with the F-16s earlier in the week, the fighter jets would have shot the laser instead of the Apache. That lets both aircraft remain less exposed to enemy fire, officials said.
Eight jets at Kunsan were scheduled to participate in the buddy laze, including two from a visiting squadron from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.
Kunsan F-16 pilot Lt. Matthew Freeman said March 10 that the weather would be the biggest problem during the week’s training. Fighter jet and Apache pilots took classes together that day to prepare for their joint flights, and Freeman said he learned the differences between their speeds, altitude requirements and weapons systems.
Those differences would make flying together more difficult, he said, but it would be good preparation for combat, when troops from different military branches work together routinely.
“This kind of training is unparalleled experience for new guys like myself,” he said.