By Captain Larry Salter
“Pardon our Noise, It’s the Sound of Freedom.” That is what the sign said on the corner of Highway 20 and Ault Field Road in February 1979 when I reported aboard NAS Whidbey Island to begin my transition to the EA-6B Prowler. The sign is no longer there, but the noise is.
History has proven time and time again that freedom is not free and it is hard fought — who does the fighting? The armed forces of the United States — the men and women of the armed forces are who guarantee our freedom — like the freedom to complain about jet noise, even when you buy property near a Naval air station that has been there since 1942.
We owe it to our service members to send them out as the best trained, most fully capable men and women they can be. If it takes some jet noise to accomplish that, so be it. Oh yeah, what about that document property owners signed acknowledging the noise zones around the base? Hint, hint: It might be noisy around here.
Jet noise is not unique to NAS Whidbey Island. The Growler is nothing more than a variant of the F/A-18 Super Hornet that has been flying at NAS Oceana and NAS Lemoore for 20 years. The U.S. Air Force has a few noisy jets also, as do the Marines. The Army doesn’t have noisy jets, but their artillery operations produce significant noise. Commercial jets are noisy too. Bottom line — jets are noisy, and if you live near a place where jets operate, you are going to experience jet noise.
We have all seen examples of NIMBY and NIMBYism — Not In My Back Yard — that appears to be the local activists point of view. They provide a lot of non-scientific data/information in an attempt to influence the narrative, but it pretty much boils down to NIMBY. My question is how does NIMBY apply when the thing you are complaining about was already in your backyard when you bought it? I don’t think many of the property owners owned their property since 1942, or even the late ‘50s when the Navy started flying jets at NAS Whidbey Island.
During four of my five tours at Whidbey, the Navy had over two hundred jets (EA-6B Prowlers and A-6 Intruders) at NAS Whidbey Island, accumulating 160,000-190,000 annual operations.
During my last tour, from 1999-2002, as the base commanding officer, we had Prowlers and P-3 Orions and operated around the historical average of 100,000 with 90,000 operations per year. Now they have Growlers operating from NAS Whidbey Island and OLF Coupeville is being used more — not more than it was in the ‘90s with over 200 jets flying from Whidbey, but more than when they just had Prowlers using Coupeville.
Landing an airplane on the deck of an aircraft carrier at night is the most difficult flight evolution in military aviation. To do anything that reduces the quality of training required to do this jeopardizes the aircrews’ very lives. To qualify as night carrier landing practice, it has to be dark. Unfortunately for our NAS Whidbey Island neighbors, during the summer months it does not get dark until after 10 p.m. — there are less noise complaints in the winter when it gets dark at 4 p.m.. Since night carrier landings are the most difficult, those require the most training which equates to more night evolutions at OLF Coupeville.
NAS Whidbey Island and their Growlers produce 100 percent of the Department of Defense airborne tactical electronic warfare (EW) capability. In addition to supporting the Carrier Strike Group’s mission accomplishment, the Growlers support the USAF, USA and USMC in accomplishing their missions when airborne tactical EW assets are needed. Single siting this high demand/low density asset is the most efficient and most cost-effective alternative available. The training ranges and operating environment provided in the Northwest are arguably the best in the country for the EW mission.
I fully support NAS Whidbey Island and the Growler presence. I believe I am in the majority. What the majority needs is to have their voices heard and help drown out the vocal minority and their activist tactics.
•Captain Larry Salter, USN retired, is a former NAS Whidbey Island commanding officer