Navy cuts back on jets over Coupeville

Following fresh complaints about noisy, low-flying jets over Coupeville, Navy and town officials started working on a solution.

The result, according to town officials, is more faithful adherence to an established flight path where pilots in training at Outlying Field Coupeville can avoid overflying the historic town.

Jets have been practicing on Central Whidbey for decades, usually with few noise complaints from townskfolk, but criticism broke out this summer.

A combination of factors promoted the protests, including a busy training schedule, new pilots and a hot summer.

Pilots stationed at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station would stray over Coupeville on their way to Outlying Field where they conduct “touch and go” landings designed to prepare them for tricky aircraft carrier landings.

“It was an imperfect storm,” Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard said.

She said she learned through conversations with Navy officials that pilots are routinely told to follow a flight pattern that avoids Coupeville.

“They aren’t supposed to go over the town at all,” Conard said. “They shouldn’t have been there if they were flying on the right course.”

However, the new EA-18 Growler is a faster jet than its predecessor and, if there are too many airplanes in the air at one time, the pattern may be extended, Conard added in an email. She said that landings at OLF is a precision activity and Navy officials are examining ways to modify activities to accommodate the new jets.

Residents started noticing more jets overhead in July when three squadrons from NAS Whidbey started training at Outlying Field.

Kim Martin, spokesperson at NAS Whidbey, said officials have been in close communication with the town and pilots have changed the way they fly at the OLF. She noted two of the squadrons have deployed, which should bring some relief to Coupeville residents. Martin added that planes may still fly over the town depending on weather conditions and the number of planes flying.

Coupeville Town Council candidate Tom Tack, who recently retired from the Navy, said his reaction was typical.

“I was appalled, as most people were, of Growler after Growler flying over the hospital,” he said during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting. He said Ault Field near Oak Harbor has handled most of the landing training since the 1990s until recently, which also benefited Central Whidbey residents.

“The residents got a little bit of a break from the jet noise,” Tack said.

Conard said in an email that there was very little training activity at Outlying Field in July 2007 and July 2008. However, in July 2009, there were 1,188 touchdowns at OLF. Many took place at night during a heat wave when many residents’ windows were open.

Both Tack and Conard encouraged residents to call the operations duty officer at 257-2681 if they feel jets are flying off pattern. The phone is manned 24 hours a day and all calls are investigated.

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