Some Old Plane, 2008
I live near one of the U.S. Navy’s busiest master jet bases. It’s located just a few miles from the oceanfront. When it was first opened, Virginia Beach was little more than a village hugging the shoreline. The base’s runways were surrounded by little but fields and woods. Over the years the city grew up around the base, so close that every now and then the Navy threatens to pull up stakes and move the jets and the base’s billion dollar economic impact to some other more isolated place where, if planes crash on take off or landing they won’t come down on elementary schools, malls or houses.
There’s a huge military presence throughout our region. Every branch of the service is here, most with multiple installations. Hundreds of thousands of people are employed directly or indirectly by the Department of Defense and related agencies. The U.S. Navy’s Mediterranean and Atlantic fleets are based here. NATO’s American headquarters is here. NASA did its first astronaut training and continues to do research over in Hampton. The CIA trains people at a top-secret base just up the road. There’s a “space port” over on the Eastern Shore. Everywhere you turn there are big gray ships and aircraft of all shapes and sizes zooming overhead. It’s nothing to be driving down a local boulevard and look up and notice a stealth bomber or an F/A 18 Super Hornet fighter jet looking for all the world like it’s getting ready to land on the highway right in front of you. They get that close to the ground on approach.
Military aviation operations are so omnipresent around here that real estate agents used to not show houses in certain neighborhoods on days when they knew the Navy would be using certain runways or approaches that crossed these neighborhoods. It’s that noisy.
Years ago the City passed an ordinance requiring that anyone buying residential property in the city be shown and put their signature on a map indicating which noise or aircraft accident zone the residence is in. That way you couldn’t say you weren’t warned. (Unless, of course, you moved into a Zone 2 neighborhood, as we did, and then the Navy changed aircraft and all of a sudden you found yourself upgraded to a Zone 1 neighborhood, the loudest.)
People complain. It is noisy at times, enough so that you’ll need to apologize to people of the telephone when you can’t hear them or that you’ll have to turn the TV or radio up to a level than can be heard in the next zip code. A couple of Super Hornets flew over the house this afternoon at such low altitude that the dog put her tail between her back legs and tried to burrow into the ground under the hydrangeas.
But most of us at least try to give them a break. These young pilots screeching just over our heads and doing repetitive touch-and-goes on the runway might be training to make nighttime landings on aircraft carriers, about as dangerous a thing as anyone ever thought of doing in an airplane. The jets screaming overhead today might be flying actual combat missions in the Middle East or Afghanistan this time next week. Enduring the “Sound of Freedom” is a small price to pay to make sure these young men and women are properly trained. And for a lot of us, it’s as close as we come to feeling any real burden from the current wars. But that knowledge sure didn’t make it any easier to sleep last night!