Military jets are loud when they fly over your home or neighborhood in and around Madison.
They have been for decades.
But the disturbance is brief and limited to a couple of takeoffs and landings per day. It also is justified to help ensure our nation is strong and protected.
Madison is close to landing the military’s most advanced F-35 fighter jets, which would replace a squadron of aging F-16s. Our region should welcome the new aircraft, expect similar and short intervals of noise from their engines, and help any residents who experience significantly louder impacts with sound proofing.
The jets enjoy bipartisan support from Wisconsin’s congressional delegation and strong backing from the business community. Moreover, a 1,000-page environmental assessment found no significant impact on air quality, soil, water, wildlife or vegetation.
Yet the potential noise from the F-35s’ more powerful engines has understandably drawn concern near Truax Field, the Air National Guard base that’s home to the 115th Fighter Wing on Madison’s North Side. A draft environmental impact study suggests more than 1,000 homes could experience higher daily noise averages above the level at which people tend to be disturbed.
If that turns out to be true, residents should be eligible for soundproofing from the federal government. We’d also encourage local governments to help if necessary, given that they will benefit substantially from additional jobs, construction and economic activity.
But that may not be needed, because strong evidence suggests the study’s complicated sound calculations are a worst-case scenario that’s unlikely to occur.
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The study projects a 27% increase in military air operations after the transition to F-35s. But that fails to account for flights away from Truax. Based on historical averages, about 20% of flights will occur at other airfields. Winter weather will cancel some trips. The Guard expects to use more flight simulation. In addition, a Milwaukee refueling wing allows Madison’s fighter jets to stay in the air over rural Wisconsin longer, requiring fewer takeoffs.
The Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing based at Truax Field in Madison could be soon receive new F-35 fighter jets. Many neighbors who are concerned about the noise from theses planes are not too happy about that.
Unlike the current F-16s, the F-35s can launch without using noisy afterburners. A Dutch study measured peak sound from F-35s at 109 dB, which was 3 dB less than the F-16s at the same locations. The Dutch also surveyed 1,500 households near two air bases. Participants perceived minor differences, pegging the F-16 as noisier.
Lt. Col. Charlie Merkel, a National Guard pilot overseeing the F-35 transition, told city officials last week the 115th will have the same number of aircraft and possibly only one more pilot if selected for the F-35.
“Therefore,” he concluded, “the resources to achieve a significant increase in the annual number of flights is not there.”
Another important fact is that the vast majority of noise coming from the airport is created by commercial craft.
The State Journal editorial board has supported Madison’s pursuit of the F-35s, and the new report hasn’t changed that. We met with supporters and opponents of the jets last week, and respect concern for local constituents.
But Madison’s experience with the F-35s — including noise levels — should be similar to the city’s past and positive experience with the F-16s.