WCAX Investigates: Are the F-35s really louder?

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 5:54 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The debate over how loud the F-35 fighter jets are at the Burlington airport raged for over a decade before their arrival in 2019, and it continues. The Vermont Air National Guard has replaced its aging F-16 fleet with the next-generation fighter, but is one jet really louder than the other? Our Ike Bendavid found out for himself.

F16s and F35s took to the skies over Burlington Wednesday morning. The six F-16 jets from South Carolina were in town for training with the VANG’s F-35s this week.

“I mean, they are loud. Are they a nuisance? I wouldn’t say, that but yeah, they are loud,” said Jeremiah Lacross a Colchester resident

“We just started to go back into the office, and they are louder than I remember them before,” said Katie Martin,” who works in Winooski.

But how loud? We set up at the airport using two methods to measure the sound -- an old school decibel meter and a free iPhone app -- and we waited for the jets.

With ambient sound or low conversation, the cell phone and the decibel meter read about the same -- in the mid-70s.

Up first were the F-35s. When the jets were flying the decibel meter topped out at 109 dB and the cell phone in the high 90s -- too loud to hear conversation.

Officials said the F-35s did not use their afterburners on this flight. Both jets averaged over 90 dB on the meter for about 15 seconds during take-off. At its loudest, the meter topped out at 113 dB

The F-16s did use their afterburners, as was common while they were based in Burlington. They averaged over 90 dB on the meter too, but for a shorter period of time -- about 10 seconds compared to 15 for the F-35. Both jets topped out at the same volume too -- 113 dB.

So how loud is that? “It’s frustrating, but I don’t think it’s causing damage to hearing,” said audiologist Mandy Mroz, president of Healthy Hearing, a consumer resource for hearing loss and hearing aids. “The first thing I think about is -- that is very loud.”

She says for the short amount of time the jets fly over, it shouldn’t cause damage, even when they peak at 113 dB. “With noise issues, it’s the amount of time you are in the noise and the level of noise. 110 dB is about like a rock concert -- a live rock concert -- and how many people wear hearing protecting at a rock concert,” Mroz said. But she does note the issues noise can bring. “Ongoing noise is an issue, for sure, and keeping concentration -- especially with kids learning language -- there is a concern there if there is a constant noise going on in the back.”

Using the free app Decibel Meter, we found both jets also registered the same level, but the numbers were lower. On the app, the F-16 and F-35 both peaked at 87 dB.

As for when to wear ear protection, Mroz says you should if you can’t hear the person next to you.

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