A Saanich councillor wants to learn more about recent U.S. military aircraft operations that have sounded louder than usual.
Coun. Fred Haynes said the issue needs some attention and information. “[Saanich residents] report it happens in mornings and evenings when it disturbs sleep or other aspects of their day-to-day lives,” he said.
“Currently, I understand it is linked to test flights or training flights by [U.S.] air force personnel. I look forward to receiving more details. The ‘noise-scape’ of Saanich is important for us all.”
The noise is coming from a U.S. military aircraft known as the EA-18G Growler, (EA stands for electronic attack) a modified version of the F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jet, designed for service on aircraft carriers. Like their technical name suggests, Growlers provide critical electronic intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data to other joint force aircraft around the world.
Today, the U.S. Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island – about 60 kilometers southeast across the water from Victoria – is home to 82 fully operational Growlers, with another 36 planned to join the flock in the coming years.
Though not much has changed in terms of the aircraft’s design or overall training practices, noise emanating from Growlers can be impacted greatly by atmospheric conditions, said Mike Welding, public affairs officer with the U.S. Navy.
“Different times of the year, depending on what’s happening in the atmosphere, the noise may carry farther,” he said, noting the peak times when noise is likely heard or felt is during a known Growler operation called Field Carrier Landing Practice, described simply as close-in, repetitive training.
Typically, Welding said these practice sessions can go on for 45 minutes at a time, with a small break in between, and maybe 15 minutes later, another group of Growlers go in. Naturally, the type of training is specific to the Growlers’ intended purpose and design, notably aircraft carrier operations.
“That type of training is for fleet squadrons, which is tied to aircraft carrier deployment schedules,” he said, adding Growler pilots have to complete this training before they get underway on an aircraft carrier. “That’s what the training does, it prepares them to do that type of activity, which is a very challenging thing to do.”
Welding pointed out people may also hear the aircraft flying out to a military operating area over the Olympic Peninsula, and off the coast. Typically, but not always, the route over there is between Sequim and Port Angeles.
“Generally, by the time they’re over the coast, they’re at 15,000 or 16,000 feet.”
The U.S. Navy is trying to reduce the Growler’s noise output, mostly with technological tweaks to the aircraft. One such attempt was the installation of chevrons on the Growler’s exhaust nozzles, a device that decreased the noise slightly, but also had a degradation effect on the performance of the aircraft, which U.S. Navy brass deemed as “unacceptable.”
Ironically, the Growler is still quieter than its predecessor, the EA-6B Prowler, with at least 8 db lower. Growlers also climb away faster than Prowlers, reducing their noise footprint overall.
The U.S. Navy continues to work on ways to lower noise levels.
“They have not shelved that idea yet, they are looking at using the chevrons with different materials, so they’re still working on that,” Welding said.
Other strategies in reducing the Growler’s growl over local shores is the Magic Carpet, a software being implemented on all Growlers that will help pilots land the aircraft on aircraft carriers, potentially shortening their training schedules.
“If that bears fruit and pans out, that’s going to impact the operations that they conduct now. Will it reduce that? That’s all being studied as well,” Welding added.
Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen says not much else can be done, other than monitoring the noise and continue reporting it.
“It really is beyond our jurisdiction [municipally] to do anything about it, other than what people have done, and what I’ve done as to provide some feedback to the impact of the noise,” he said. “It’s a matter that the federal government would want to take up with them.”
Frustrated residents can also voice their noise concerns with Growlers via the NAS Whidbey Island automated comment line (1-360-257-6665).
With files from Wolf Depner, Saanich News