Sunday, January 08, 2012

Q&A: Increased jet noise at Oceana in Virginia Beach

This month marks the start of more intense jet practice at Oceana Naval Air Station. If you're wondering what's going on, here are some answers. And watch for weekly updates in Tuesday's military roundup in The Pilot.

Are we hearing more jets in Virginia Beach? 

Yes. The airstrip where Oceana-based jets usually do field carrier landing practice - Fentress Auxiliary Landing Field in Chesapeake - closed for maintenance last month and won't be available until August or September. In the interim, Oceana's fighter jet squadrons are doing a lot of landing practice at home. During especially busy periods, squadrons may travel to South Carolina or Florida for training.

OK, so there are more jets - but why does it also sound noisier than usual?

Because they're doing a different type of maneuver: field carrier landing practice. This typically involves five jets taking off in quick succession. Pilots fly in a left-handed oval pattern, touching the runway and then taking back off again, eight times in a row. The 40 touch-and-go maneuvers that make up one "set" of practice typically last between 45 minutes and an hour.

That's a lot different from the take-offs and landings that usually occur at Oceana as jets come and go from training over the Atlantic and at North Carolina's Dare County Bombing Range.

Capt. Jim Webb, the base's commanding officer, said he hopes that the concentrated periods of landing practice will end by 10 p.m. most nights this winter - but that doesn't mean you won't hear or see jets flying later in the evening.

Jets also will continue to leave from and return to Oceana on those other training missions. As the Navy's East Coast master jet base, Oceana has no restrictions on its airspace, which covers a 4.3-mile radius, or its operating hours.

What's on tap for this week at Oceana?

Base officials say some of Oceana's 17 squadrons will be conducting landing practice this week, so expect concentrated noise until 10 p.m. Although intense activity should cease after that, jets may be flying 24 hours a day.

Where do we make complaints about the noise?

Oceana has a community concerns hotline, (757)-433-2162, where you can leave specific complaints about operations, including time and location and your contact information. Or you can send an email to But the base's website notes that complaints won't alter flight patterns or change the hours of operation.

According to Oceana spokeswoman Kelley Stirling, the Navy investigates only anomalies - such as claims that a plane dumped fuel in a residential area or broke windows by flying too low.

You could also complain to Virginia Beach officials or federal legislators: U.S. Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner and U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell.

Whatever happened to the Navy's plan for an outlying landing field, where Beach-based jets could practice in a less-populated environment?

That's on hold until at least 2014. After trying for more than a decade to find a site in northeastern North Carolina or southeast Virginia where jets would practice carrier landing skills, the Navy halted its efforts to find a local outlying landing field last January. That's because it hasn't yet decided whether to base any of the next generation fighter jets, the F-35, on the East Coast. Until study of that issue begins in earnest - in 2014, at the earliest - the Navy won't resume its search for an outlying landing field for fighter jets.

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