A new Air Force stealth fighter pitched as a possible future resident of Tucson has hit a snag getting approval for its first home base in Florida because of its high noise level.
Depending on altitude, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could be roughly a dozen times as loud as the A-10 attack jets flown locally at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, and several times as loud as than the F-16 fighters the Air National Guard flies from Tucson International Airport, data in Air Force environmental studies suggest.
The new warplane is on tap to eventually replace the A-10 and the F-16. A few years ago, the D-M 50, a local booster group supporting the Tucson base, made a formal pitch to the Pentagon asking that the strike fighter be based here when the time comes.
Air Force headquarters hasn't decided which bases would get it and did not respond on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday to questions about whether D-M could be a candidate. The F-35 isn't due to come into widespread use for a decade or more.
Some Tucsonans are watching from afar as the noise issue erupts on the other side of the country.
The Air Force has always said the strike fighter would be louder than other aircraft, but it hasn't said by how much until recently. The disclosure was required in an environmental impact study at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, proposed home of the first F-35 training site.
The Eglin study said the F-35, a supersonic jet packed with technological wizardry, would be about twice as loud at takeoff as the F-15 Eagles now flown at the Florida base and up to four times as loud upon landing.
The report didn't include noise comparisons for the A-10, and the Air Force did not respond last week to requests for that information.
But data in earlier, unrelated Air Force studies, when compared against the Eglin study, indicate that the F-15 is about four times as loud as the A-10 and about twice as noisy as the F-16. Each 10-decibel increase is perceived as a doubling of noise in the complex, logarithmic comparison scale.
Decibel levels over 65, as a daytime-nighttime average, are deemed incompatible with residential living. Several thousand Floridians near Eglin would experience noise above that level, the study found.
The Pensacola News Journal recently reported that the city of Valparaiso, just outside Eglin's gate, has filed a lawsuit against the Air Force seeking more details on the F-35's impact on the community.
In light of the controversy, the Air Force has put off until next year a final decision on Eglin's suitability as an F-35 site. The delay buys time to find ways to ease the noise impact, for example, by building a new runway or revamping existing Eglin runways, said Marie Vanover, spokeswoman for the Florida base.
Tucsonan Alice Roe, president of the Blenman-Elm Neighborhood Association, said the Eglin situation is worrisome for those concerned about future quality of life in Tucson. Her historic Midtown neighborhood is home to staunch D-M supporters and to people strongly opposed to any increase in military jet noise.
"If Eglin has concerns, I can't see why we wouldn't have concerns," Roe said.
D-M officials noted that any new aircraft based in Tucson would first have to pass environmental scrutiny here.
Chester Pianka of Tucson, a former airman who lives half a mile or so from D-M in a neighborhood where warplanes sometimes set off car alarms as they land, said he's glad the base is here and isn't troubled by the possibility of louder military aircraft.
If jet noise — "the sound of freedom" — becomes a roar, "it doesn't bother me," he said.