Hazards of living near military jets: some numbers

VA Beach F-18 crash

March 24, 2018 ~ Think it can’t happen here? Let the numbers do the talking. Above is a photo of a Navy F-18, same airframe as the EA-18G “Growler,” that crashed into an apartment building in Virginia Beach in 2012.The number of crashes of this airframe since December 2016 alone has been ten. The aircraft pictured suffered dual engine failures shortly after takeoff, and the two pilots managed to eject after avoiding a school. Astonishingly, there were no fatalities. Dozens of apartments were destroyed. The entire complex was eventually demolished “for a number of compelling reasons” that were never disclosed, but a look at the photo below, with the grounds and structure covered in toxic firefighting foam, the same as what poisoned Whidbey Island’s main aquifer, may give a clue. Some people had lived there for 18 years. Compensation for victims was $2,300 for individuals and went higher for families.

With as many as 35,500 touch-and-go operations coming on an unimproved WW2-era runway in a residential neighborhood that is far too short for safety, the risk of crashes with loss of civilian life has soared. Like most Americans, we hate to see and are saddened by, injury or loss of life to our men and women in uniform. But to continue to risk the lives of thousands of civilians where they live and work for the sake of convenience, when safer alternatives exist elsewhere, is to imply that those civilian lives are expendable. That is not a statement the Navy we used to know would have made.

The following is a Harper’s Index-style list about noise and air crash risks.

Apartment complex in VA Beach after F 18 crash

Number of Navy pilots critically injured after a December 16, 2016 Growler canopy explosion before takeoff at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island: 2

Temperature reached in a Growler cockpit on January 29, 2018, after mechanical malfunction caused icing and forced injured pilots to “fly blind” using a smart watch for navigation: minus 30 degrees.

Average number of “physiological episodes” of oxygen deprivation due to mechanical malfunction experienced by Navy pilots since May 2010: more than one every six days, or 461.

Percentage of these airframes affected by oxygen deprivation and cabin decompression issues: 100%.  Note: military personnel have been pointing out these defects for years; the causes remain elusive.

Number of feet over residential homes that Navy Growler jets fly at Whidbey Island’s OLF (Outlying Landing Field) Coupeville while practicing touch-and-go landing: 200-300′.

Length of runway recommended: 8,800 feet.

Length of WW2-era OLF runway: 5,400 feet.

Number of feet too short OLF Coupeville is for safety: at least 3,000.

Total number of all other Navy runways shorter than OLF Coupeville: 0.

Number of schools and hospitals sited within a mile of runway’s end: 3.

Number of schools within 1 mile of touch-and-go flight paths: 4.

Number of private homes in newly expanded crash zone: about 400.

Where Growler mission was originally based: Lemoore, CA.

Length each of 2 runways at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California: 13,500′.

Number of acres of unoccupied buffer recommended for naval airfields:  30,000-50,000.

Number of acres of buffer at NAS Lemoore: 29,784.

Number of acres of buffer around OLF Coupeville: 800.

Number of Growler mechanical failures at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in the last year, not counting incidents at other bases, that resulted in emergencies: at least 2.

Number of Growler flights out of the 47% overall increase at Naval Air Station Whidbey island to 130,000 flights of all aircraft: 73,900.

Number of acres of bird-rich marsh found under the flight path for OLF Coupeville: More than 700.

Number of species of birds in Coupeville marsh large enough to create serious collision hazard: 16.

Number of proposed low-altitude Growler flights over Coupeville marsh to OLF: 35,500

Average number of bird strikes to military aircraft per year (nationally, tracked by Air Force): between 300 and 400.

Number of bird strikes reported by Navy between 1981 and 2011: 16,000.

Percentage of bird strikes that involve fighters and trainers: 57%

Time of year most bird strikes occur: between July and October.

Causes of most crashes: varies, mostly mechanical failure.

Most recent crash of this F/EA-18 airframe: March 15, 2018 in Key West, Florida (below).

F-18 crash off Key West FL

Loudness measured by sound meters outside homes near OLF runway: at least 130 decibels (dB).

Inside homes: 101.8 dB.

Pain threshold: 110-120 dB. (110 dB is the equivalent of an auto horn at one meter. 120 dB is 32 times louder than a vacuum cleaner.)

Exposure time at 130 dB before permanent hearing loss: less than 1 second.

Exposure time at 101 dB before permanent hearing loss: between 7.5 and 15 minutes.

Number of hours per OLF exercise that jets fly 200-300′ over roofs: 4 to 8.

Number of years farms and many homes near OLF predate arrival of Growlers: Decades to more than a century.

Percent quieter Navy claimed Growlers are than the old Prowlers they replaced: 30.

Noise level intensity for every 10 dB increase: Doubled.

Decibels to eardrum rupture: 150.

Noise level of Growler at takeoff: 150 dB.

Welding email - 500 - 100 foot zone

Altitude Navy says FAA allows it to fly over rural areas anywhere: 500′.

Over towns: 1,000′.

Degree FAA says it is allowed to regulate military aircraft operations: Zero.

Loudness of a Growler at 1,000′ altitude (Navy figure): 113 dB.

Sound of two military jets drowning out the roar of a rushing mountain stream: Listen.

Sight of Growlers flying low over mountain passes: Watch.

Number of feet Growlers from Whidbey recently flew repeatedly over the heads of 20 people, all families with children, who were picnicking at Gold Creek Pond at Snoqualmie Pass: 100.

Number of terrified, shaken picnickers: 20.

Top industry threatened by Navy expansion: Tourism and agriculture (tied).

Exposure time at 113 dB before permanent hearing loss: about 45 seconds.

Current noise-related health costs to Island County residents: $2.8 million.

Expected health costs when Growler operations increase as planned: $3.3 million.

Property value decline so far: $9.8 million.

Correlation between noise annoyance and disturbed sleep: High.

Correlation between noise annoyance and cardiovascular effects: High.

Number of Navy analyses in Draft EIS, on Growler noise more than 6 miles from the runways: 0.

Number of days of quiet Navy averages with jet noise to arrive at 65 dB as the level it says communities are exposed to: 365.

Number of times Navy found “significant impacts” in all EIS (Environmental Impact Statements) or EA (Environmental Assessments) in past 10 years: Zero.

Potential military interest in Quillayute Airport near Forks, Washington: High.

Military interest in conducting helicopter training operations over communities around the Olympic Peninsula: High.

Accident rate for training operations in helicopters compared with fixed-wing aircraft: Twice as high.

Number of cities in in the most densely populated part of Idaho about to be designated as “F-15 Urban Warfare CAS (Close Air Support) Training Range“: 9.

Number of 3-hour low-level “gunfighter” sorties over Idaho cities like Boise, in support of stealth urban warfare personnel using “eye-safe lasers” and other devices: 4,056.

Number of these operations per year expected to cause potential sleep interruptions in Idaho residents: 2,074.

Where else military jets are newly encroaching on civilian areas: Vermont. (there are other areas, too.)

What can you do? 

DOCUMENT jet noise incidents. Keep a log book.

Call the Navy’s Noise Complaint Hotline:  360-257-6665.

Email: comments.NASWI@navy.mil

Keep writing to elected officials, even when it doesn’t seem productive to do so. Contact information: http://westcoastactionalliance.org/location

It’s an election year. Urge candidates running for office to take the Candidate Peace Pledge.

Crash landing at Lemoore

crash landing at Lemoore.


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