VALPARAISO - Residents cringed and plugged their ears as the sounds of fighter jets screamed, the shrieks so piercing that they may as well have been flying directly overhead - instead of coming out of loudspeakers.
Valparaiso resident Bob Webb, an audio professional, recorded the sounds of the fighter jets on April 22 and 23, then downloaded them onto his laptop. Afterward, he compared and contrasted the noise levels created by an F-15, F-16 and the controversial F-35, which were played during Monday evening's Valparaiso City Council meeting.
The demonstrative, 45-second sound clip was part of a nearly hour-long presentation Webb gave to an audience of about 50. Webb spent more than 30 years working at Eglin Air Force Base in a variety of capacities, from installing audio equipment in aircraft to developing instruments.
Webb explained that he parked his audio-equipped van at the runway and digitally recorded the sound of the F-35s at the approach end of runway 12. After turning on the recording equipment, he left the van and measured the decibels manually using a calibrated meter.
"I got there early and son of a gun, just before the (F-35) landed, a flight of three F-15s landed, so I got to record them on the same recording as I got the (F-35)," he said. He later recorded six noise-level measurements of F-16s over the two-day period.
Webb compiled the data and determined that the noise level created by a landing F-35 measures at 105-106 dB compared with the F-16's 90 dB and F-15's 91 dB. According to his estimates, the average person would find the new fighter jet to be two to three times louder than the F-16.
Webb said his estimates are in direct contrast with Air Force assertions that the F-35s are no noisier than the present fighter aircraft. During those two days, Webb said, the Air Force gave a watered-down version of the noise level Valparaiso residents could expect from the F-35s, in part because they were not fully loaded and equipped at the time or because the thrust engine was at a lower power.
Exposure to that kind of noise, he said, is not only annoying but will drag down real estate prices, make it harder for residents to refinance their homes, and could easily cause irreversible hearing damage.
"We're gonna have a lot of people in their mid-20s with hearing aids," he warned. "Once you kill the cilia in the ear, they don't grow back."
Webb also warned that while people think the F-35 noise is a Valparaiso issue, it will also affect parts of Niceville, Shalimar and Destin.