Peace Time: The Sound Of Victory


May 2, 2009: Civilians living near military air bases are becoming increasingly angry about the noise. This is caused by two separate factors. First, many bases, which were originally built in sparsely populated rural areas, are now surrounded by civilian housing. Second, recent aircraft designs are using more powerful, and noisier engines. This was first noticed with the F-18E, back in the late 1990s, when this model first entered service. The F-18E is about as loud as the new F-35, but there are fewer than 400 of them. And F-18Es spend much of their time at sea. There will be five times as many F-35s, most of them will be operating from land bases.

While the new American F-35 fighter-bomber is superior in many ways to the aircraft it is replacing (F-16s and F-15s), it is noticeably louder on takeoff, and whenever it is in the air, especially at low altitudes. The navy is already getting growing number of civilian complaints from people living around land bases where the F-18E operates. There air force fears there will be lawsuits, and headaches for base commanders. There might even be bans and groundings. To try and get a sense of the extent of the problem, the few F-35s that are flying are being taken to air bases so that more data can be collected. There are already a growing number of civilian complaints around bases where F-35s are being flight tested. Civilians may not be noise experts, but they can sense when an aircraft is demonstrably noisier, and they don't like it.

There are other problems as well. The powerful jet engines of the F-18E, F-35 and F-22, are so loud that the noise goes right through the head and damages the delicate tissues that enable us to hear. The air force equips its ground personnel with sound protection equipment, especially electronic noise cancellation devices. But the vibrations still get through. It's going to take a while for evolution to catch up with this one, although acoustic engineers believe they will come up with a solution in the next decade.


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