Noise from F-35B comparable to F/A-18s, new study says


The new F-35B fighters flying over Beaufort might not sound like their older counterparts, but they are no louder, according to data released last month by the F-35’s Joint Program Office.

An executive summary made public Oct. 31, ahead of the release of the full report, says the F-35B’s noise level is comparable to or lower than the F/A-18s currently flying at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The summary, released by the military’s office for the Joint Strike Fighter, indicated that the F-35B is slightly louder on takeoff, but significantly quieter on all approaches.

However, it was unclear whether the results reflect noise levels for the F-35B’s short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities. The testing was completed at Edwards Air Force Base in California in September 2013, according to the summary.

F-35B training was expected to start at MCAS Beaufort this month.

“It should (allay) the average person’s concerns on the modeling data,” said Jim Wegmann, chairman of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Military Enhancement Committee. ” … The actual data says the F-35B will be even a little less noisy.”

Attempts to reach air station officials for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

The study found that the F-35B’s takeoff noise level was only two decibels higher than the F/A-18’s, an increase the average person would not notice, according to the summary. While in its flying patterns or making approaches or landings, the F-35B was at least 10 decibels quieter.

The summary says the sound-buffer boundaries laid out in environmental impact studies — such as the 2010 study completed for MCAS Beaufort — are “essentially equal or slightly smaller” than boundaries drawn using the new F-35B data.

The air station completed both an environmental study and created an Air Installation Compatible Use Zone using data collected by flying prototype F-35As in 2008. The release of the AICUZ earlier this year using F-35A data concerned many residents, but Wegmann said the executive summary validated the modeling data used.

Lady’s Island resident Robert Pollard said he had not seen the executive summary, but said the noise levels reported “defied the laws of physics.” He cited data from a 2009 U.S. Navy study comparing the F-35A to the larger F/A-18 Super Hornet, which does not fly at MCAS Beaufort. By comparing the F-35B’s larger weight and higher thrust to the data in the Navy study, Pollard has calculated that the F-35B is about three times as noisy as the F/A-18.

Pollard has filed two noise complaints with the air station in recent months, both in instances where the aircraft has flown low over his home. He said he measured one from his porch at 116 decibels, and one inside his home at 86 decibels. Pollard’s home, built six years ago, was constructed to code to dampen the noise effects of jets flying overhead by 30 decibels.

Pollard said he has heard the F-35B fly overhead 40 or 50 times since the first jet arrived in July. Viewing them from his porch, Pollard said, the F-35Bs appear to be flying at an intentionally higher elevation than the F/A-18, making them sound comparable to that aircraft.

He suggested a minimum height for F-35B flights as a way to lower the noise. At Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia, flights over residential neighborhoods must be over 1,000 feet, he said.

Wegmann said he did not know if the summary included vertical landing data, but said vertical-landing testing done on the USS Wasp indicated that the noise was contained mostly under the aircraft. He said it would be difficult to compare those noise levels to current flights at the air station, since the F/A-18 does not have vertical landing capabilities and the AV-8B, or Harrier jet, doesn’t fly regularly at MCAS Beaufort.

In the executive summary, the F-35B was reported to be five decibels louder than the AV-8B on takeoff, and about the same on flying, approach and landings.

Wegmann said a subcommittee of the MEC is still exploring an alternate landing site for MCAS Beaufort, which could alleviate concerns about noise and the frequency of flights.

However, it could be years before a landing field comes to fruition, he said, and would require action from the Department of the Navy.

A similar requirement started the process to create the Townsend Bombing Range in Georgia that pilots use to train, but it took 10 years to realize, he said.

If the Navy requires the air station to build an alternate landing strip, a site could be picked and funding could be secured in the federal budget. Wegmann said the MEC was in contact with the state’s congressional delegation to make sure the second phase of expansion at the bombing range would be included in the 2016 budget.

“We aren’t expecting a full complement of F-35Bs until sometime between 2025 and 2029,” he said. “It’s a gradual buildup over time. We don’t necessarily need it today like we might years from now.”

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