Noise Levels if the F-35 Comes to Tucson International Airport

Air National Guard flights will be about three times as loud and spread over more than 4 times the area, if the new F-35 fighter comes to the Guard at Tucson International Airport. This information is based entirely on Air Force sponsored documents.

Currently, the Tucson Air National Guard flies two kinds of F-16s:

  1. The F-16-pw220, with 23,400 pounds of thrust – 80% of the sorties.
  2. The F-16-ge132, with 32,000 pounds of thrust – 20% of the sorties.

The F-35 has 40,000 pounds of thrust, 71% more than the F-16-pw220, 25% more than the F-16-ge132: Air Force data shows that the F-35 is significantly louder than both the F-16-pw220 and the F-16-ge132. This is documented in two Air Force-sponsored Environmental Impact Statements,
one for Eglin AF Base, one for Nellis AF Base, and an actual test made by the Air Force and Lockheed. These comparisons were on the F-16-pw-229, which is about 3 db less loud than the F-16-GE132. The AF-sponsored measures of relative loudness of the F35 and the F-16-p229 include:
F-35 F-16-pw-229 F35 is louder by

Eglin EIS: 121 97 24db
Nellis EIS (min power) 103 89 14db
Nellis EIS (max power) 123 114 9db
AF/Lockheed (max power) 121 114 7db
AF/Lockheed (min power) 94 89 5db
AVERAGE 112 101 11db

(Note: the loudness differences between rows result from different speeds, and different methods of measurement: but each paired comparison refers to the same speed, power setting for both of the aircraft).

Various public sources of information show that the F-16-pw229 in flight is 6db louder than the F-16-pw220 and is 3db quieter than the F-16-ge132. So, on average, the F-35 will be 8 db louder than the louder F-16-ge-132 and 17db louder than the more common and quieter F-16-pw220. Since
the F-16pw220 sorties are 4 times as frequent as the F-16-ge132 sorties, the average noise level with the F35 will be 15 decibels louder than today. How much louder is 15 decibels? This is about 50 times the physical energy. It will be perceived as at least 3 times as loud. Furthermore, the spread of the noise will be about twice the distance, compared with the F-16-ge132, and about 3 times the distance of the more frequent F-16-p220 flights. That is, a family 9 miles from the airport will experience daily noise like that of a family currently 3 miles from the airport: the impact on city life will be significant.

References:

  1. Wyle Labs EIS for Eglin AF Base. October 2008 2005 BRAC Decisions and Related Actions Final Environmental Impact Statement, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. (Chapter 7, table 7-10 for direct ground noise; table 7-11 for lateral spread of noise).
  2. Joint Communications Release: JSF Program Office & Lockheed Martin; Subject: F-35 Acoustics Based on Edwards AFB Acoustics Test; Date: April 2009. (AF/Lockheed Power point, page 9).
  3. F-35 Force Development Evaluation and Weapons School Beddown; Environmental Impact Statement; United States Air Force Air Combat Command (EIS on F-35s at Nellis AF Base: Draft for public comment: March, 2008. p. 116.)
  4. Information on the relative percentage of F-16-p220 (80%) and F-16-p229 (20%) sorties from the Air National Guard provided by the information officer of the 162nd fighter wing.
  5. Comparative loudness of the F-16-p220 and F-16-p229 available from various public sources, including the Nellis AF EIS, Wikipedia, etc.

Technical Notes:

  1. All reported noise values are for aircraft actually in flight. Tests of aircraft tied to the ground and powered at full power tend to show similarities in noise level. Tiedown measures are not relevant for “community noise”, noise produced by aircraft in actual flight.
  2. The Air Force sponsored documents provid very little data on direct measurements of the F-16-ge132, which accounts for 20% of today’s ANG sorties. This makes it necessary to estimate the loudness of the F-16-ge132 based on actual tests and modeling of the F-16-pw229, and the fact that the F-16-GE132 is about 3db louder than the F-16-pw229.