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Beating the Weather

July 19, 2011
By Rita Boland, SIGNAL Online Exclusive
E-mail About the Author

Troops soon will have access to an upgrade that allows them to counter one of their most complex foes—Mother Nature. A project at the U.S. Air Force Electronic Systems Center incorporates weather information with flight maps so crews can more quickly understand what the environment plans to throw their way and when.

FalconView Weather displays weather and data products on FalconView, the mapping application of the Portable Flight Planning System (PFPS) used by mission planners. Personnel from the Electronic Systems Center and MITRE teamed to develop the tool, which they fielded in the first fully supported release in August 2010. Version 1.1 currently is in use by approximately 30 operational units. Next month, the second release, version 1.2, is scheduled to enter its operational test with field release expected in October 2011.

"FalconView Weather 1.2 adds an order of magnitude increase in the amount of available weather products and an improved user interface to make it easier to add products to overlay FalconView/PFPS," Gerard Flynn, FalconView Weather program manager, explains. The new version adds products from the U.S. Navy and the Air Force along with satellite, radar and lightning overlays; model forecasts for winds and temperatures; aircraft weather reports; and airfield observations and forecasts. "Specifically for the UAS [unmanned aerial systems] community, the ability to extract aircraft weather reports in real time from UAS ground control station data feeds and display [them] on PFPS/FalconView was introduced in FalconView Weather 1.2," Flynn says.

Developers also added the ability to work with stored data in a disconnected, off-the-network mode and to utilize Defense Department machine certificates to support automated data retrieval. "These capabilities were developed and added based on user requests for new functionality, which were validated and prioritized by FalconView Weather's lead command, Air Combat Command," Flynn explains.  

Before FalconView Weather, no capability could overlay weather on mission planning applications. Operators were required to search for information on various weather websites. "FalconView Weather fills the capability gap by providing current and forecast weather data, products and impacts to operators of UAS and manned aircraft, mission planners and AOC [air and space operations center] personnel and allows weather operators to input mission-tailored products," Flynn says.

FalconView Weather retrieves the data and products it displays from the Air Force Weather Agency Air Weather Web Services (AFW-WEBS) and Weather Data Analysis systems as well as from the Naval Oceanographic Office Geospatial Data Services capability. It can leverage the nonsecure Internet protocol routing network and secret Internet protocol routing network, or NIPRNet and SIPRNet, instances of the AFW-WEBS and the Web mapping services of the oceanographic office's data services.

The PFPS is not the only system taking advantage of the new technology. Another major military  mission planning capability, the Joint Mission Planning System (JMPS), also is leveraging FalconView Weather by making small software modifications that allows the application to work on the JMPS mapping display.

 Even as system developers plan to test the next version in August, they have forecasts for the future. A third release—FalconView Weather 1.3—is slated to field in mid-2012.