Reported: 8/31/2003 11:36:33 PM 23:36
Location: Atlanta, GA
|Boom! Mystery solved Noises in sky just Lockheed flight tests By DAVE HIRSCHMAN The Atlanta Journal-Constitution The mystery of the twin booms that have startled people from Chattanooga to Huntsville since June has been solved.
The culprits are new F/A-22 Raptor fighters and chase planes making supersonic test flights over the region. So far 17 of the futuristic jets have been built at Lockheed Martin's plant in Marietta, and all must show they can break the sound barrier before being handed over to the Air Force.
The only problem is that no one let folks in the flight path know the sonic booms were coming. When residents asked the military about the alarming noises, every branch denied having any planes in the area.
"Each boom sounds like an explosion," said Jess Hornsby, 61, of Signal Mountain, Tenn., a Chattanooga suburb. He estimates he's heard 10 in the last three months. "There's no rumbling like thunder. It's a loud crack that really rattles the windows. People here have been wondering what in the world was going on." Hornsby, a self-described aviation buff, said he looked up the first time he heard the booms and saw two white contrails streaking overhead. Each F/A-22 is shadowed by an F-16 chase plane.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) said the first time he heard the twin booms, he thought a coal mine had exploded.
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack," Wamp said. "It was such a high impact." Greg Caires, a spokesman at the Marietta plant, said the planes typically fly about 40,000 feet on a route that takes them from Crossville, Tenn., to Scottsboro, Ala. The planes cover the 110-mile route in about four minutes.
The flights follow an existing FAA-approved "supersonic corridor," so rules that prohibit breaking the sound barrier over the continental United States don't apply.
Lockheed says it tries to minimize disruptions by avoiding Sunday flights and keeping the planes high. Caires says security rules prohibit the company from telling residents in advance when supersonic flights will take place.
Caires and Randy Neville, an F/A-22 test pilot and University of Tennessee grad, traveled to Chattanooga and Huntsville last week to let residents know what the planes have been doing in the skies overhead -- and to expect more booms in the future. Lockheed is accelerating F/A-22 production and plans to build more than 300 of the fighters.
Once residents learned the planes were on their side, Caires said, Lockheed got a warm reception.
"People are very supportive and think the supersonic flights are really cool," Caires said. "I tell them to look to the southwest next time they hear the booms -- but they better look fast, because the planes won't be there long."