Make a Joyful Noise

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If anyone has cause to cringe everytime a helicopter is heard loudly chattering overhead, it’s me. It took years for me to 
stop ducking like a Pavlovian 
dog whenever I heard the distinctive

whop-whop-whop

of rotor blades.

Although I was a naval aviator my entire military career, I did not pilot “helos.” I was lucky enough to finish near the top of my class in Primary Flight, high enough, in fact, to have some choice in 
what I was ultimately going to fly, and at the time I knew I did not want choppers. Helicopter pilots got the less glamorous 
jobs of dipping sonar buckets around the aircraft carriers to 
look for enemy submarines, ferrying mail and spare parts, and plucking downed aviators from Poseidon’s mighty grip. So “aces” like me got the fancy flying scarves while the guys at the bottom of the class got shipped off to Helicopter School.

There were three things wrong with this scenario: one, helos are so darned hard to fly that it takes real talent to work two control sticks simultaneously; two, I was never so glad as when I once looked up from the pitiful oil-slicked wreckage of my once-proud fighter to see the grinning visage of the helo pilot who was about to save my life; and, three, when you look back at the Congressional Medals of Honor and other high military awards for valor given to pilots, chopper pilots have it all over us fighter jockeys.

On my third tour in Vietnam (call me stubborn!) I was assigned as a Navy intelligence analyst to MACV Staff in Saigon. Even though I was a tried-and-true blue water sailor, part of my duties was to go traipsing around the jungles with Marine patrols, seeking out the enemy, trying to find out what they were up to, so we could find better ways to bomb them. OK, so, it wasn’t the brightest thing I’ve ever done …

Anyway, I learned quickly that whenever I heard rotor blades flailing away overhead, we were probably going to be either (a) in the middle of a firefight, or (b) getting extracted, which made us big fat targets for ground fire of all types. Fill an empty coffee can with half a dozen big lock washers and shake it vigorously: that’s what flying in a Huey taking AK-47 rounds sounds like. Yes, it took a long time to get over the feeling that the Grim Reaper was inbound, flying a Huey from Hell, before I more or less got used to the sound of helicopters flying overhead.

So, now, I just have to ask: What’s the big deal with all this brouhaha over helicopter noise in the Hamptons? From my perspective, which I admit may be a little skewed, it doesn’t bother me. If people are spending scads of money on helicopter trips from Manhattan or Teterboro to get to the Hamptons, doesn’t it mean we are in a robust economy where devil-may-care attitudes toward conspicuous consumption abound? Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t it preferable to hear the

whop-whop

of rotor blades 
overhead than shudder to the sound of the elevator rattling toward the basement of the economic shaft?

What about the earthquake-like shaking of those big Blackhawks from Gabreski? To me, that’s the sound of freedom—and a message that your National Guard is awake, alert and concerned for your safety. I’ll take a few rattled windows for that privilege.

I’ve been bemused by all the flak that’s been fired at the Federal Aviation Administration and the helicopter flying community here. My colleague Karl Grossman has weighed in on this, both barrels blasting away, and in my view it’s time for a cease fire, or at least a peace conference based on reality.

As Karl and others have alleged, the FAA is, indeed, the go-to agency. The FAA would be the only conduit to change, if any, in regard to flight rules for helicopters (and their intrinsic noise). Attempts to pass bills in the county or state legislatures affecting flight rules would be exercises in futility—and without legality, I might add.

But here’s the challenge: All aircraft operate by what are called “visual” or “instrument” flight rules (VFR and IFR, respectively). On good days, with clear weather and great visibility, most pilots would prefer to go VFR—less restrictions, less paperwork. Under VFR rules, pilots can concoct their own routes and altitudes; it saves time and fuel, which, of course, equals money.

It does not mean they can do anything they want, such as fly 50 feet off the ground and over military bases, schools and such. Pilots still have rules to follow, even under VFR, for separations, no-fly zones and any other published restrictions.

IFR flying is much more stringent, since it’s usually done under adverse weather conditions. It also requires filing a flight plan, adhering to specific flight paths, flying written approach patterns, and communicating with ground stations. Note: East Hampton Airport doesn’t have a control tower—i.e., no ground-to-air communications, which is one of the big problems out here.

Bottom line: Grouse and complain all you want, make as many phone calls to the FAA as your airtime allowance will afford 
you, but until all sides sit down and craft some rules that the 
FAA can agree to and publish that will bind all pilots to specific IFR or VFR restrictions, there will be no solution to the noise problem. If you build or buy near an airport or a known flight pattern, you either have a very bad real estate agent or no real reasons to complain.

The proposed Romaine Bill, if passed, would be an empty 
victory, a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. And to 
equate this battle with the fight to close down Shoreham? Please—that’s a whole different level of issue and, frankly, I’m beginning to wonder if we wouldn’t have been better off, after all, with cheap, safe nuclear power than some of the oil prices we’ve experienced in this economic downturn … and, you know, of course, that I am Mostly Right …

E-mail: Captphil1@optonline.net.

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