This was a forest, not a battlefront
December 6, 2016 12:02 AM   Subscribe

“The Growler is not louder” than the Prowler, reads a public information statement from the navy, “but has a slightly higher potential to cause noise-induced vibration,” low frequencies that can physically shake you. Some who live beneath the navy’s flight paths say the Prowler was tolerable. But the noise from the Growler? Maddening.
The military’s plan to send newer, more disruptive jet planes over the Hoh and Quinault rain forest region has unraveled not only townspeople throughout the Olympic Peninsula, but the veterans who thought they’d found a refuge.

The electronic warfare training based out of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island has long been controversial because of the possible effects on wildlife of low-flying jets over Olympic Peninsula wilderness. In recent years the Navy has phased out the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare jet in favor of the much louder EA-18G Growler. This has drawn warnings from environmental scientists and complaints from residents. The Navy was recently granted permits for increased numbers of flights over the Peninsula including rainforests claimed to be among the quietest places in the country.
posted by edeezy (32 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Those are the loudest planes ever. When all air traffic was grounded nationwide the first few days after September 12th, one afternoon here in Seattle one Growler from the naval base on Whidbey Island flew over.Magnolia.when I was north of Roy.on Broadway. That one jet.provided the loudest skyborne mechanical noise I have ever heard. Loudet than a.hundred 747s And ugly.grating roar it was, truly awful.
posted by y2karl at 12:47 AM on December 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

guess you can't say it's false advertising
posted by atoxyl at 1:18 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Missing important information. The Prowler was a variant of the subsonic A-6 Intruder. The Growler is a variant of the supersonic F/A-18F Super Hornet. Some of the noises described in the article could be sonic booms, which the Prowler could not create, but the Growler could. It's hard to tell, because the author's descriptive powers are lacking. "a Boeing plane with a pointed nose like a wasp’s" -- maybe he's confusing the two ends of wasps; their noses are not pointed, and if you look at a photo of the Growler, its nose doesn't look anything like the front of a wasp.

For a story that seems to start out being about the effects of a change in the aircraft being flown over the area, this is really light on relevant facts about the planes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:26 AM on December 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

The Growler is not louder than the Prowler
But in the clouded skies its sound is fouler
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:35 AM on December 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

Planes we don't need and can't afford degrading the places we desperately need- helping the wallets of the already rich and hurting those who already paid a very high price. Murica!

Sorry, I'm bitter from having recently been on a weeklong trip to the beautiful swamps of Maryland's eastern shore where all day long most days I listened to war planes screaming overhead. So loud it's hard to even think sometimes. They seem to target the most beautiful places we have left...
posted by Patapsco Mike at 5:08 AM on December 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

FWIW, a 'wild weasel' (electronic warfare) plane like the Growler is the kind of plane we do need, from a reasonable procurement perspective. Phantoms and Intruders are past being useful and safe. A re-purposed F-18 isn't a boondoggle like the F-22 or JSF.

It hardly needs to conduct low altitude exercises over the rainforest, however. The location of NAS Whidbey Island non-withstanding. They aren't screaming over the fancy neighborhoods on the islands in the sound, I'd bet. Eastern Oregon can't be too far away at an F-18's cruising speed.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:17 AM on December 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Those are the loudest planes ever.

That's probably the XF-84H, which was basically an F-84 fitted with a turboshaft engine and a supersonic propeller. The loudest plane in service is likely the Tu-95, which likewise has supersonic props, or possibly older-engined KC-/RC-135s (which are basically as loud as 707s in the 60s/70s).

Some of the noises described in the article could be sonic booms, which the Prowler could not create, but the Growler could.

Sonic booms are pretty distinctive and nothing at all like engine noise, with the possible exceptions of supersonic props.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:43 AM on December 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

I used to work on a flight deck and the EA-6B Prowler is undoubtedly the noisiest plane on takeoff with a deep unpleasant buzzing. But the takeoff only last a few seconds. My personal vote for overall most obnoxious sounding plane is the S-3, it's not called the Hoover for nothing.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:04 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah. They're just loud engines. And two of them. Possibly in part due to variable geometry nozzles, which causes the noise to change. I could see that making it more irritating in the 'fingernails on a blackboard' way the article mentions -- not the same going by as more typically monotone jet noise (having lived near ANG F-15s).
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:12 AM on December 6, 2016

I live in Anacortes, north of NAS Whidbey, and yeah, the new planes are incredibly loud. What's maddening is that my town has a noise ordinance that goes into effect at 10pm, but these planes routinely fly well past midnight, and the Navy turns a deaf ear to complaints. They're doing landing approach exercises, so every few minutes, another plane that literally shakes the windows screams overhead. Being a former sound guy, I have whipped out my dB meter and noted 120dB on the ground (rock concert is 110-115dB). It's painfully, dangerously loud.
posted by xedrik at 7:16 AM on December 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

The higher frequency noise has an inverse relationship to the bypass ratio. Modern commercial airlines have bypass ratios on the order of 10 and are relatively low-pitched.The Prowler engine has a bypass ratio around 1, and was the basis for the JT8D used on early 737s; these engines are much higher-pitched. The Growler's F414 has an even lower bypass ratio of 0.25, which will positively shriek.
posted by cardboard at 7:18 AM on December 6, 2016

Anyone who thinks this is the loudest plane ever has never, I guarantee you, been hanging around the flight line of an RAF airfield when a QRA Typhoon II blasts off on full afterburner.

(One Typhoon-II puts out about as much racket as half a squadron of Panavia Tornados, which were one-for-one roughly on a par with a Phantom. The only louder thing I can remember is a Harrier hovering a thousand feet away. I was standing ten feet from an unmuffled Rolls-Royce Merlin — a turbocharged V-12 piston engine — going at full throttle, and the Harrier drowned it out completely.)

TLDR: Military jets are loud, and the Growler is far from the worst of them.
posted by cstross at 7:18 AM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nobody should expect liberty to be quiet.

Rockets weren't just red glaring.

Here in NZ we have no fighter planes at all - try your freedom here.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 7:37 AM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The loudest plane in service is likely the Tu-95...

With relations as they are, do you think the Russians would be willing to lend enough to properly fuck up the quietest place in the US?
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 8:01 AM on December 6, 2016

Well, the plane I saw and heard was flying so slow as to seem just above stalling speed. I wondered whether it was sent out as some sort of public reassurance or just to be mega annoying.
posted by y2karl at 8:02 AM on December 6, 2016

From all accounts I'm aware of, the F-35 is even louder than any F-18 variant. So, they have that to look forward to.
posted by indubitable at 8:18 AM on December 6, 2016

These things are real annoying in Victoria too. As far as I know we didn't give 'em no permit. /sarcasm
posted by klanawa at 8:22 AM on December 6, 2016

Jet Noise: The Sound of Freedom. I first saw this as a bumper sticker in Albuquerque in the 90s, when the Air Force started flying obnoxiously loud military planes over the city. I kept waiting for the followup about the smell of napalm in the morning.

The Olympic Peninsula is some seriously, seriously remote territory for the United States. There's few roads, the terrain is rough, it's so wet that getting around on the ground is difficult. It seems a real shame to spoil that with noisier planes.
posted by Nelson at 8:33 AM on December 6, 2016

Regarding the "Sound of Freedom," some years ago I was in a proceeding as part of a court-martial at NAS WI, and we were constantly interrupted and had our voices drowned out by the planes coming and going. At one point my co-counsel referred to the intrusion as "the sound of freedom," which was the first time I had heard that euphemism before.

Also, our client ended up receiving a year in the brig so not sure what he thought about it being the sound of freedom, either.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:56 AM on December 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

We were camping on Whidby Island, in Deception Pass Park, and I was walking to the beach when I was dumbfounded by a noise that seemed like the loudest, most intense peal of thunder, but that didn't ever diminish. I'd never heard anything like it. I hustled down to the beach to see what it was.

There was a line of several EA-18 jets, loitering very slowly at relatively low altitude, waiting for their turn to speed up and dive low over the air station. After they'd done whatever, they'd climb back up, and come around in a big circle over the ocean to line up along the coast again, to repeat the operation. I was about 2.5 miles from the air station.

There was no timetable, and there was no set duration: it could happen anytime. The descriptions given in the article are not exaggerations. It was the loitering that seemed to be the loudest phase.

I used to live a scant mile from San Jose International under the takeoff path, and the jet noise was episodic, but with a definite buildup, climax, and letdown. The EA-18 was rather different: a continuous shattering roar of indefinite duration (tens of minutes). I would say that both noises were of about equal maximum intensity. It was definitely a taking.

I wonder if the targeting of the Olympic Peninsula is an instance of the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, benefiting a vastly larger number of residents of Victoria and Whidbey, but oppressing a few on the Olympic Peninsula.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:26 AM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live on Whidbey and have been at the OLF when these planes were flying directly overhead, doing landing-and-takeoff practice. The noise is incredible; it ceases to become noise at all and just is a sort of body-filling pain. That said--- If you drive 5 or ten miles away, say to Greenbank on Whidbey, you can't hear them at all.

One thing that I found very odd; I was out in this area because there's an off-leash dog park there, and I was walking dogs. And even though the humans would wince and hold their hands over their ears, I didn't notice any dogs reacting to the noise at all. Which stunned me-- you'd think they'd at least cower or cringe or whimper or bark but there was no response, even from the dog I was with who is afraid of fireworks and thunder. My private suspicion is that the noise is SO loud, it short-circuits in the dog's brain-- it's literally unbelievable and they can't even figure out how to react except "this is fine".

(We left when the planes started flying, but there were several passes as we were walking to the gate. I didn't stand out there and make the dogs suffer under that noise.)
posted by The otter lady at 9:33 AM on December 6, 2016

Honestly (not really), if this keeps more retirees from moving to Port Townsend, I'm all for it.

(not really)
posted by humboldt32 at 9:51 AM on December 6, 2016

Planes we don't need and can't afford degrading the places we desperately need- helping the wallets of the already rich and hurting those who already paid a very high price. Murica!

You may have missed an extra special phone call placed to the Republic of China last week.
posted by sideshow at 11:39 AM on December 6, 2016

That said--- If you drive 5 or ten miles away, say to Greenbank on Whidbey, you can't hear them at all.
Must be out of the flight path then, because Anacortes is much farther away, and they fly right overhead and it is awful. Like, if you're unlucky enough to be caught outside, your ears are left ringing, and everything sounds watery and muffled.
posted by xedrik at 12:05 PM on December 6, 2016

Eastern Oregon can't be too far away at an F-18's cruising speed.

Hey, what did we ever do to you?!
posted by madajb at 12:34 PM on December 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Quiet is lovely. We live in an unusually quiet part of a big city. I mean, hardware and noise can be impressive and exhilarating, like at an airshow... but not as a permanent feature.

How come they don't do all that military flying over US desert? The world's conflicts currently aren't occurring in the Pacific Northwest... Just sayin.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:14 PM on December 6, 2016

How come they don't do all that military flying over US desert?

The population density here in Jefferson County is: 17/sq mi

Nevada: 24.8/sq mi
posted by humboldt32 at 2:19 PM on December 6, 2016

Gotta get ready for our next war. So do your part without complaining.
posted by notreally at 2:52 PM on December 6, 2016

How come they don't do all that military flying over US desert?

They do an awful lot of it there; half the state of Nevada has various restricted flight rules to let the military pilots learn to do their thing. But inland deserts aren't the best place for a Naval Air Station.
posted by Nelson at 4:02 PM on December 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

China Lake Naval Base is next to Joshua Tree.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:04 PM on December 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

And China Lake is a dedicated electronic warfare test/training range. The kind of place the Growler should actually be.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:43 PM on December 6, 2016

I figured the Eastern Oregon desert is spacious enough to be less disruptive than the peninsula, but I don't have a great sense of its scale. I kind of assumed that's where the F-15s at PDX went to play, if they do any A/G stuff.

Do the Growlers do ASW now? If we've retired the S-3s? Maybe that's why they need to be up by Bremerton.

Really, they don't need to be rebased, they just need to be careful around that airspace. But apparently the Navy got tired of that, thus their permit application.

(And for anyone confused, China Lake is up by the northern part of Joshua Tree -- close to Death Valley.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:20 AM on December 8, 2016

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