By Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Like some others in the area, residents in a small Central Whidbey community on Blockhouse Road said they believe the noise from Navy EA-18G Growler practicing is untenable.
The difference, however, is that they believe the aircraft noise would be tolerable — if the pilots flew where they are supposed to.
“They have the skill but not the discipline,” resident Robert Brown said of the pilots. He’s retired from a career building civilian airports.
The idea that the aircraft are flying outside of their designated path, however, might be based on a misunderstanding, an official at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island indicated. Many factors can affect the flight track of the Growlers as they circle Outlying Field Coupeville during aircraft carrier landing practice.
Brown, and several others who have lived in the neighborhood for decades, say they remember the historic path the EA-6B Prowlers, the predecessor of the Growlers, flew in Central Whidbey; the path took the aircraft over swaths of undeveloped land, Brown said.
The Prowlers consistently stayed in the path, the residents said, which was about two miles from their neighborhood at the closest point.
People built houses in his neighborhood, Brown said, because Prowler pilots were “conscientious” about where they flew.
“If a plane went down, it would have gone into a field,” he said.
They also pointed out that the Growlers’ track is often different than the patterns identified in the Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, the Navy created to bring more of the aircraft to Whidbey Island. The noise curves and estimated noise exposure in the document are based on the identified flight paths, which are miles from their homes.
“They come right over the top of my house,” Bill Lane said. “The whole house vibrates.”
While people in the neighborhood couldn’t see the Prowlers in flight, the Growlers fly “right over the tree tops,” Bruce Fee said.
On Monday afternoon, Growlers flew close to Coupeville, coming just to the edge of town limits on the southeast side. One official said he’s seen the aircraft circle over Penn Cove. Growlers flew over the Whidbey News-Times building in Coupeville on the day the secretary of the Navy’s final decision was announced regarding the number of Growlers on the base and the distribution of training.
Mike Welding, base public affairs officer, pointed out that the Growler flight paths are different than those of the Prowlers. Changes in the EIS allow “pilots to fly a more carrier-representative pattern using Runway 14, the approach from the north,” Welding said in an email.
Some people might misunderstand the flight tracks identified in the EIS for OLF Coupeville, according to the Navy. Welding explained that the “middle track” is an average representation of the flight tracks.
The outer line is not a limit.
The only restriction in the air operations manual, Welding wrote, is to avoid flying over Crockett Lake Estates.
“There are a number of factors that can impact where the pilots are in a flight track,” Welding said in an email.
“More experienced pilots will fly a tighter, more consistent pattern.”
There are also other variables that have a considerable impact on flight paths.
The number of aircraft involved in practice at one time has a considerable effect on the pattern, according to Welding. With more planes, the flight path must elongate so that the Growlers maintain a safe distance from each other.
Fuel loads also have an impact because heavier aircraft have a longer turn radius.
Still, Navy officials said they want to hear comments.
Welding said people should provide as much detail as possible, including an address and the time they witnessed an event. They should explained what they experienced and what they saw.
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey-News-Times, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.