Thursday, December 20, 2012

Military aircraft reportedly caused sonic booms this morning

A military aircraft reportedly is the cause of sonic booms that caused windows to rattle across the Central Coast this morning, according to the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) confirmed no earthquakes occurred in the area - the closest was a 1.3 magnitude near Tehachapi at 9:13 a.m.

"It's something in the atmosphere, probably jet planes," said USGS seismologist Steve Walter. "I'm seeing these wave forms as far away as Bakersfield, Santa Maria, it's really strong near the San Luis Obispo station and up at Parkfield."

Walter said the first pair of air waves occurred near Parkfield. The first was at 9:30 a.m., another at 9:31 a.m. Four waves then occurred starting at 10:03 a.m., and happened at 10:05, 10:06 and 10:07 a.m.

"Man is somehow involved here, it's daylight, my guess is it’s an exercise of some sort. We may never know exactly what it is," he said. "We’ve seen this before in this area."

No damages have been reported, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

The airspace off the Central Coast often is used by military aircraft from Lemoore Naval Air Station in Kings County and Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert and other installations for training flights.

It’s not known whether the aircraft were affiliated with Vandenberg Air Force Base and officials there could not be reached for comment

The Western Range, which is based at Vandenberg, typically monitors just-launched rockets and missiles with a vast array of sensors and equipment across the Pacific Ocean. But the range also has a vital although lesser-known role involving aeronautical testing of military aircraft.

In 2003, sonic booms heard on the Central Coast were blamed on testing of F-22 Raptor fighter jets off the Central Coast.

Sonic booms, sometimes likened to thunder, are caused by an object moving faster than sound - about 750 mph at sea level, according to an Air Force fact sheet.

The military has conducted faster-than-sound test flights since 1947, and today requires that whenever possible, flights be over open water, above 10,000 feet and no closer than 15 miles from shore. Supersonic operations over land must be conducted above 30,000 feet or, when below 30,000 feet, in specially designated areas.


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