Dane County residents who are unhappy about the roar of F-16 military jets through the skies say they are worried the noise could grow louder if F-35 warplanes are based at Madison’s Truax Field.
The Air Force maintains that the new jets usually produce sound levels that are roughly equivalent to that generated by aircraft like the F-16, but there may be fewer flights at least initially and the new jets could be quieter on takeoff because they don’t need to use afterburners as frequently as the older aircraft do.
But a full answer isn’t possible until noise studies that take into account conditions at Truax are completed next year, an Air Force spokeswoman said.
Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce president Zach Brandon is leading an effort to persuade the Air Force to select Truax over four other finalists because of the economic benefits of the hundreds of jobs at the base.
Brandon said the economic benefits and the need for communities to contribute to national defense outweigh any inconvenience of jet noise.
Noise studies comparing six bases previously considered for F-35s found that in some cases F35s would generate higher noise levels than the military jets they would be replacing, while in others the noise levels would be lower.
For three of the bases, the Air Force’s 2013 Environmental Impact Statement used computer models to compare the F-35 to F-16s like those at Truax.
The Air Force cautions that those results “would not apply to any other airfield due to differences in flight profiles, altitudes, speeds, and weather.”
The results found the F-35 produced noise levels from two decibels to 35 decibels higher depending on the base, the type of sound measurement and the type of flight.
At three other bases that had fighter jets equipped with a louder engine, the comparisons were mixed, with the F-35 producing less noise in some cases.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said bases that become home to the F-35 are able to take steps to reduce the impact of noise, for example, by adjusting takeoff and landing paths and by limiting night flights and afterburner use.
“If there are community concerns, that is definitely something, depending on mission requirements, that can be worked out with the local community,” Stefanek said.
Steve Klafka, an environmental engineer who lives on the Isthmus, said he has tried for years to persuade officials to do something about noise from the airport, especially the military jets.
“As an active resident and environmental professional I thought I could make a difference, but have learned that airports and airplanes are in a class by themselves,” Klafka said. “The noise exposure standards for protecting the public are over 30 years old and are based on annoying people, not health or educational effects. And these outdated standards don’t even apply to the deafening military aircraft.”
Sara Petzold has lived in several Madison neighborhoods, including an East Side area flown over regularly by passenger jets from Dane County Regional Airport.
But she was surprised last year at the way the windows rattled in her current house on the North Side when military jets from Truax Field fly over.
Melanie Foxcroft has brought her East Side neighborhood organization’s complaints to an Airport Commission subcommittee, but she’s seen no indication that anything will change.
“When you are outside, it’s absolutely ear shattering,” Foxcroft said. “All conversation has to be suspended. It’s so intrusive.”
The Air Force’s Stefanek said the F-35 might actually be experienced as quieter than the F-16.
“Depending on the type of flight operation, and other variables, an F-35 can be quieter or louder than legacy jet fighters,” Stefanek said. “Additionally, the noise from an F-35 may sound different than previous military jets, and this ‘difference’ could cause people to perceive the noise as being louder, even if the measured noise levels are essentially the same,” Stefanek said.
F-35 pilots for at least the next few years will do more training in simulators than F-16 pilots do, because it’s sometimes the only way to practice with all the new jet’s high-tech equipment, said Air Force spokesman Capt. Mark Graff