Noise Worries Massachusetts Base Neighbors as Air Force Preps for F-35s

by Braxton Taylor

WESTFIELD — Shirley Adams, a resident of Klondike Avenue in Westfield, already knows what an F-15 fighter jet sounds like.

“It’s a good ‘Sound of Freedom,’ ” she said Tuesday during the open-house portion of an in-person environmental hearing hosted by the Air National Guard preparing for new, more powerful F-35 fighter jets at the Barnes Air National Guard Base. “We’d like to know how much louder it is going to be. And what is it going to sound like at my house.”

Adams, a 25-year resident of the short street right off Routes 10 and 202 and her neighbor, Barb Sikop, were in the crowd of 30 or so neighbors attending Tuesday night’s hearing at Westfield Intermediate School.

“Their runway is right outside my house,” Sikop said. “Right there.”

Joanne and Jack Barry, of Kittredge Drive, moved in in 1979 and Jack can still tell a story of watching two pilots in A-10s, a plane previously based in Westfield, chase each other at treetop level across the neighborhood.

Today, Joanne knows when the F-15 are about to come and go on their regular patrol and training missions.

“Ten o’clock and 2, 2:30,” she said. “It’s not that bad. But how is that going to change?”

Noise impacts in the vicinity of Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport would be “significant” once the latest-generation F-35 fighters are based there in 2026, according to the draft environmental impact statement released in February.

The report, issued by the U.S. Air Force and the National Guard Bureau, said 885 households and 2,406 people around the airport would experience a reportable increase in noise according to Federal Aviation Administration criteria.

Col. David Halasi-Kun, wing commander of the 104th, said area impacted by noise, with 65 decibels as the threshold, would expand. The expansion would be mostly to the north of the airfield reflecting flight patterns and a takeoff direction away from most of Westfield.

Adams, Sikop and the Barrys live generally to the south of the runway.

Residents had a chance to look their homes up on maps included with the environmental impact statement. The statements are on file at the Westfield Athenaeum or www.ANGF15EX-F35A-EIS.com.

The airport also has FAA money for noise mitigation efforts.

The F-35′s greater power, compared to the F-15, might mean there is less noise. With all that power, pilots will be less likely to use the jet’s afterburners. That has been the Air Force position over the past year or so — and was reiterated Tuesday night.

The Air Force announced in 2023 that it plans to base as many as 21 of its $78 million, latest-generation F-35 fighters at the Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes.

It’s an economic boon to Westfield, where the airport depends on firefighters and air traffic controllers who are there only because the fighters are based there. The total number of base personnel would increase by approximately 80 people, including 15 officers and 65 enlisted military members, though officials say those numbers may fluctuate.

The arrival of the F-35s in Westfield will spur $50 million to $60 million in construction.

“The Air Force’ continued involvement in the city of Westfield is very important to me,” said Mayor Michael McCabe.

The airport and its tenants, military and civilian, have a $138.5 million payroll and total economic impact of $236 million per year. The airport is responsible directly and indirectly for about 2,100 jobs, according to the Airport Authority.

Gulfstream’s jet maintenance facility in Westfield has about 300 employees.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit masslive.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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