Some years ago I went down the hall in the E-ring in the Pentagon to see the then 3-star admiral friend of mine who ran all of naval aviation. At one point I got around to asking him what his biggest problem was at that time. I was surprised at his answer: neighborhood encroachment at his naval air stations. What he was telling me was that as civilians built houses closer to his airfields the noise from the aircraft were causing a problem with the homeowners and they were raising a ruckus with their politician friends . . . and that was causing a significant issue for the Navy all over the world.
It reminded me of when I was a nugget junior officer living on base at the Alameda Naval Air Station in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Every time the repair facility would do an engine test on the J57 engines for the A-3 aircraft that I then flew, even though they had the test stand sticking as far out in the bay as they could, it rattled the windows in the bachelor officer quarters such that all conversation would stop for the 3-5 minutes while they ran the engine through its high-power run-up test.
I was young then and didn’t think much about it. If I had, I may have had the bumper sticker opinion that all that noise was just the “sound of freedom” as I’ve heard some old soldiers referring to the disruption produced by helicopter operations near residential areas. Maybe it’s just my problem, but I’ve never equated patriotism with pollution, although I guess some people do.
It’s interesting that we in the GA business have such a low sensitivity to the noise that our machines produce. What other job can you think of where a goodly number of the profession puts on a coat and tie and goes to work in an environment where the ambient noise level is so loud that they have to use headphones to muffle the outside noise and amplify the normal speaking voice of the folks that they are communicating with – some just a couple of feet away. Ours is not a steel mill or an aircraft carrier deck. We’re not stamping metal with giant presses that shake the ground. Think about it, we’ve got engines the size of those in every car and truck in the country, but ours make far more noise.
In my profession of looking at future trends it is clear that people all over the world are becoming increasingly concerned about their environment. It’s certainly the case with smoking in public places, tail pipe pollution pumped into the air, industrial and agricultural run-off finding its way into streams and rivers, and sound levels in neighborhoods. There have been mini-revolts in the spiffy suburbs around Hollywood generated by the disruption produced by weedeaters and leaf blowers wielded by foreign workers who were impervious to the noise because they were wearing Mickey Mouse ears (that’s what we called noise suppression devices in the Navy).
Of course, the AOPA has full-time people fighting the neighbors all around the country who want to close local airports. San Jose, San Mateo, Naples, and any of a number of other places where GA flies close to the people. Why? Mostly because of the noise. Can you imagine what the problem might be if there wasn’t any noise – or if it was the level of an automobile or a pickup? I don’t think there would be a problem. People aren’t concerned about low flying aircraft – they don’t want to be disrupted.
(More on this subject next month.)
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