Leas: Where they stand (to listen to the F-35s) counts

Editor’s note: This open letter to Winooski Mayor O’Brien is by Burlington patent attorney Jimmy Leas.

Dear Mayor O’Brien:

A point about the visit to hear the F-35 needs questioning, and I thought you may be able to ask the question, as it is especially important for Winooski and the part of Burlington near the Winooski bridge.

No pun intended but where you, Mayor Weinberger, and the governor stand counts. That is, where you are standing when the F-16 and F-35 are flying past during your visit to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on Wednesday.

If you are standing on the tarmac beside the runway, the Air Force Environmental Impact Statement says that the F-16 and F-35 are about equally loud. Further to the side of the runway the F-16 is louder, according to the contours on page BR4-31. This because the F-16 has its fuel tanks on its wings which requires it to use an afterburner on takeoff till it reaches about 300 feet — near the end of the runway. The afterburner is incredibly loud. The F-35 is configured so it does not need to use its afterburner on takeoff. The F-35 is very loud but nevertheless a bit quieter than the F-16 as you go sideways to the runway. This because the F-35 is not using its afterburner. This is why fewer houses in South Burlington sideways to the runway are in the noise zone from the F-35 than from the F-16 which is using its afterburner on the ground and for the first 300 feet elevation.

I found interesting the fact that the external fuel tank, which had been located under the fuselage of the F-16, was moved to the wings a few years ago because the Air Force determined that the added weight on the wings would reduce vibration and metal fatigue, thus reducing maintenance and adding to the lifetime of the planes. Under the fuselage the afterburner was not needed. The move to the wings is what required the use of the afterburner. The use of the afterburner is what caused the 200 houses in South Burlington to be placed in a zone incompatible with residential use. And that is why most of those houses have been bought by the airport, 55 have been torn down and 60 are vacant, ready for being torn down. Thus, the Air Force put maintenance and lifetime ahead of homes and neighborhood.

If you are standing in a location equivalent to where Winooski is, about 1.2 to 1.5 miles straight ahead from the end of the runway, the Air Force Environmental Impact Statement says that the F-35 is much louder than the F-16.

If you are standing in a location equivalent to where Winooski is, about 1.2 to 1.5 miles straight ahead from the end of the runway, the Air Force Environmental Impact Statement says that the F-35 is much louder than the F-16. It says that when the planes reach 1,000 feet and the listener is standing below, the F-16 sound level is 94 dB and the F-35 115 dB (page BR4-18). The F-16 afterburner is off at this altitude. It was turned off at an altitude of about 300 feet. According to the EIS, that 21 dB difference is heard as more than four times louder (pages C6 and C9). This is why Winooski has no houses in the noise zone for the F-16 but more than half of the housing in Winooski is in the noise zone for the F-35. The noise zone is where the noise is so loud that when averaged over 24 hours for a year the average sound is 65 dB or higher. The FAA says that makes the houses “unsuitable for residential use.”

So where you stand makes a difference. The question you may wish to ask is where are you going to stand? Are you going to listen to the sound of the two planes while standing in a location equivalent to the area of Winooski that is most affected? Or will the test have you standing next to the runway, which of course will negate the supposed purpose? Will the Air National Guard explain all this and more to you? Or will they omit mention of these facts? If they do have you standing next to the runway, will you insist on a repetition of the test during which you are standing in a location that is equivalent to the most affected part of Winooski, about a mile ahead of the runway?

Of course, what you will be doing is not a scientific test. The Air Force has already done the testing and modeling and reported those results in its EIS. So far, no one has given any reason not to believe the results the Air Force presented.

For confirmation of the facts about the purpose and use of the afterburner you may wish to contact the Vermont Air National Guard. I got the information about the move of the external fuel tank from under the fuselage to the wings from a maintenance technician and from one of the F-16 pilots during the open house a few months ago, Col. Thomas W. Jackman, a commander at the base here. VPR did a story on Col. Jackman, and you can see a picture showing one last moment with his plane, the Lethal Lady.

best regards,

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