Mayor Weinberger distorts science to push F-35 training flights in a populated area
During the Burlington Mayoral debate on Thursday, January 21, City Council President and mayoral candidate Max Tracy questioned incumbent Mayor Miro Weinberger about whether he continues to support the F-35 basing at the city’s airport “despite the near daily disruption of peoples’ lives.”
First declaring, “I believe in the science,” Weinberger went on to say that he still believes the F-35 jets are only modestly louder than the F-16s were and that they are less noisy in some places.
However, the science, as presented by the Air Force, shows that high aircraft noise levels cause distress and suffering, damage hearing, impair learning, interrupt classrooms, and degrade the cognitive development of children. The CDC, the EPA, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Vermont Department of Health all added supporting evidence. More recent scientific papers also point to noise-induced hearing damage accelerating cognitive decline as people age.
Weinberger’s “less noisy” talking point requires omitting mention that F-35s currently take off without afterburner while the F-16s were routinely using afterburner for 90% of takeoffs (BR4-23). The afterburner squirts fuel directly into the exhaust stream, sharply increasing thrust and vastly increasing noise level.
The Air Force reported that the F-35 is more than 4 times louder than the F-16 when both are in non-afterburner flight (BR4-23 and C-2). The F-16 afterburner was routinely turned off shortly after takeoff, while still above the airport in the Chamberlin School neighborhood. The Air Force EIS shows that F-35 flying without afterburner is almost as loud as the F-16 flying with afterburner (BR4-69), explaining the slightly lower noise level for the F-35 than the F-16 in the Chamberlin School neighborhood and the much higher F-35 noise level in Winooski, Burlington, and Williston.
The routine use of the F-16 afterburner for takeoff only started around the time Weinberger was on the Airport Commission and when the Air Force was beginning planning for basing the F-35. Vermont political and military leaders implemented a scheme in 2008 to reconfigure the external fuel tanks on the F-16s to require afterburner for takeoff, which sharply boosted the F-16’s noise level in the Chamberlin School neighborhood to slightly exceed the anticipated F-35 non-afterburner noise level.
That boost to the F-16 “baseline” noise level underlies Weinberger’s “less noisy” talking point. Along with intense pressure from the most senior of all senators, Patrick Leahy, the ability to say “less noisy” in the Chamberlin School neighborhood because of the afterburner-boosted F-16 baseline noise level persuaded the Air Force to choose Burlington for the F-35 basing, throwing the 6,663 people the Air Force said lived in the F-35’s noise danger zone under the bus.
The “less noisy” talking point also required Weinberger to omit mentioning that the Air Force EIS (Br4-23) and the Vermont National Guard both say that the F-35 will indeed use its own afterburner for 5% of takeoffs--7 to 14 times each month, boosting its noise to an unprecedented extreme level.
The Science—distress and suffering from F-35 noise
The Air Force EIS reports studies that show “a consistent relationship” between noise level and distress (C-10). A graph in the Air Force EIS shows the Air Force estimate that more than 1000 of the 6,663 Vermonters in the oval-shaped F-35 noise danger zone are “highly annoyed” by the F-35 training flights (C-10).
The Science—permanent hearing damage
High average noise level: The Air Force EIS reported that 260 homes were within the highest part of the F-35’s oval-shaped noise danger zone where permanent hearing damage “could be credible” (p. C-12). The Air Force says that 593 Vermonters live in those 260 homes (p. BR4-30), including over 100 children.
High peak noise level: The US Air Force EIS also cites a scientific study showing that repeated exposure to low altitude military aircraft flight noise with a peak noise level greater than 114 decibels (A-weighted) can cause noise induced hearing loss. (p. C-25). A chart in the EIS states that the F-35 exposes Vermonters on the ground below to 124 decibels when at 500 feet elevation on takeoff with its afterburner off (p. C-5) and to 115 decibels at 1000 feet (p. BR4-23). The Air Force thus further admitted that the non-afterburner F-35 takeoffs expose hundreds of Vermont civilians to permanent hearing damage.
Consistent with the Air Force numbers, sound measurements of 118 decibels (A-weighted) and 124 decibels (C-weighted) during F-35 takeoffs without afterburner were taken by a sound engineer with a calibrated recording meter on public streets near the two ends of the runway.
The Vermont National Guard issued a statement about its flight schedule on April 9, 2020 that adds up to between 1,760 and 3,520 F-35 takeoffs each year, or about 150 to 300 F-35 takeoffs each month. Even exposure to a fraction of those F-35 non-afterburner takeoffs could be enough for the “repeated exposure” the Air Force says is needed to permanently damage hearing.
The Science--immediate and permanent hearing damage:
In addition, the Air Force EIS states that a single exposure to a noise at 130 decibels can cause “immediate and permanent hearing damage” (p. C-4). A NIOSH chart confirms: the time a worker may be exposed to 130 decibels during an 8-hour work day is less than 1 second.
Data in the Air Force EIS showed more than a 21-decibel boost in peak noise level for the F-16 when it takes off with afterburner (BR4-23 and Br4-69). A similar increase for the F-35 afterburner would boost noise level for a person on the ground below to 136 decibels at 1000 feet elevation and to 145 decibels at 500 feet. Thus, the science warns of “immediate and permanent hearing damage” for civilians who are outdoors on airport grounds or in the flight path from even a single F-35 afterburner takeoff.
The Veterans Administration (VA) says “hearing problems—including tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing, or other type of noise that originates in the head—are by far the most prevalent service-connected disability among American Veterans.” Thus, the military fails even to protect its own members.
Like the officials who brought and maintained the lead-poisoned water in Flint Michigan, Weinberger pushed for and continues to advocate for the F-35 training flights in a densely populated area, bringing distress, suffering, and hearing damage to thousands of Vermont civilians.
A large majority voted “yes” (6,482 to 5,238 votes) on a March 6, 2018 referendum on the ballot in Burlington calling for “cancellation of the planned basing of the F-35” at the city’s airport – notwithstanding a lavish campaign by opponents, who spent $100k to defeat it. The mayor’s talking points were not persuasive then. They are unlikely to be persuasive now.
Mayor Weinberger concluded his response to Tracy by diverting attention to positive contributions made by members of the Vermont National Guard. However, he omitted mention that the F-35 training flights interfere with the ability of Guard members to vastly increase those positive contributions, which are particularly needed now during a pandemic, when hundreds of Vermonters are falling ill from COVID-19 each week.
Town meeting provides opportunity to elect a mayor who will face up to the uncontroverted science presented by the US Air Force. Science showing that routine F-35 training flights in a densely populated area cause severe distress and permanent hearing damage. Burlington needs a mayor who will use that science to lead the campaign to end the state-sponsored violence F-35 training flights inflict on Burlington, Winooski, S. Burlington, and Williston. A mayor who refuses to sacrifice Vermonters in obsequious subservience to the military industrial complex. A mayor who prioritizes Burlington, not F-35 training for more never-ending racist wars of aggression against oil-rich countries with black or brown populations. A mayor who abides by the will of the people as clearly expressed in the 2018 town meeting vote.
A future article will address the learning impairment, classroom interruptions, and the impaired cognitive development of children described by the US Air Force that Weinberger also failed to mention.