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— There's no doubt the Marines have signed onto this safety concept. Just last month they fought the city of San Diego to stop the building of an extension to the Lodge at Torrey Pines, which hotel magnate Bill Evans wants, because it reached out into a secondary APZ. The city council voted 6 to 3 to allow the building to go ahead anyway. Marine Major General Bob Magnus said the vote showed the council values economic development over "the city's responsibility for public safety around an airport," according to the Union-Tribune.

General Magnus's fellow officer, Colonel Dan Pender, went farther. Allowing hotel-type development in the crash-hazard zone, he said, "has lit the fuse on an encroachment issue that will jeopardize the long-term viability of Miramar" as a military base.

So if the Marines believe so passionately in keeping land clear under approaches for fixed-wing jets, how come they don't care about land under the more accident-prone helicopters? Especially as they are more likely to have to hover over homes while waiting for jets to land?

"That," says Frederick, "has been my question from day one."

And accidents do happen. Statistics MARCH obtained show that in the ten-year period between 1987 and 1996, Marine helicopter squadrons located at Tustin, near Santa Ana, suffered an average of nearly two "Class A" accidents (causing at least $1 million worth of damage and/or one or more fatalities, in noncombatant-related operations) per year.

Sound is perhaps the least but the most constant threat North County residents like Frederick face. With CH53s lifting 73,500 pounds fully loaded overhead at 2000 feet, Frederick says, residents should expect to be deafened by around 85 to 87 dB (decibels). "You stop hearing your own speech at about 75 dB. And sound energy doubles every 3 dB: 78 is twice as strong as 75."

I ask Frederick if he's told the authorities.

"I have!" he says. "So has MARCH. Anyone who is opposed to the helicopters is not only not allowed to be on any of these committees, but we're not even allowed to sit in on their discussions and listen. People like the San Diego Airspace Users Group tell us, 'These are closed working sessions. We will send you a report.' That is part of the arrogance that certainly bothered me."

"We have no intention of letting them come in," says David Johnson, Barbara Warden's press secretary. "If I wanted to say, 'Gee, I want the soccer team to come to town,' would you choose the anti-soccer people to go negotiate with them? Of course not. It would be ridiculous. How do you negotiate with somebody who doesn't want you there in the first place? They cry and they whine and they act like babies: 'Oh! We weren't allowed...' Of course you weren't allowed. That's common sense!"

Johnson says Warden's office chose ten people from the community to form a technical committee to talk with the Marines.

"We said, 'Look, we're not getting anywhere screaming at each other.' Barbara doesn't even go to the meetings. There's no charter, there was no agenda. Then MARCH called up...and said, 'Why didn't you let us in there?' Because they would have disrupted everything. Every meeting they go to they disrupt. They scream at the top of their lungs. You cannot deal with these people. They hate helicopters. They think they're these giant bugs that [are going to] come down and kill their children, and they've said as much. For two years we've begged for ideas, and all they said was 'We don't want ideas! We want [the helicopters] out of there.' So now, when it looks like we're making some progress, gosh! Suddenly they want to help. Don't fall for it. We have no intention of letting them come in."

Johnson says his boss Barbara Warden was told by the Department of Defense that if the helicopters did not come to San Diego, there was no reason to send the jets to Miramar; no reason for them to use Miramar at all. "And [Warden's] district has always stood for supporting Miramar as a military facility and not an international airport. Anyone who tells you that the international airport idea is dead is fooling you. And that would mean jets, 747s -- traffic you wouldn't believe. [The Marines] are the lesser of two evils."

"I don't have a problem with helicopters flying over populated areas," says Barbara Baker, a Sabre Springs resident and technical committee member. "All the safety statistics we've received from the Naval Safety Center, plus the ones we've received from the Marines, indicate that it's a lesser problem than it is with jets and a far lesser problem than it is with the small commercial aircraft."

She says one reason for nixing flight routes over Rancho Santa Fe is they would conflict with routes out of Palomar airport and a nearby training field.

And noise? "Two years ago the Marines put on a demonstration for us. We stood in a higher point in Rancho Bernardo. The helicopters were flown over at their designated altitude. They flew one up and one down, one CH53 one CH46, and they crossed each other. At no point was our hearing impaired. And when someone started up a lawnmower next to us, we could not hear the helicopters over the lawnmower. So what's more significant? People mowing their lawns every day or a helicopter passing over?"

Back at Jeff Frederick's house in Rancho Bernardo, a helicopter passes over, heading north. But it's a light Bell chopper. Probably a TV news crew. You can hear it, but it's not oppressive.

Frederick says not to compare it with a Super Stallion or even a CH46. Size, among helicopters, matters.

"CH53s are much noisier even than the 46s, mainly because they've got three large engines, and there's a low-pitched rumble to those things. You can hear them from miles away; even when you can't see them, you can hear them. You can almost feel them. They have a seven-blade rotor [each blade a yard wide] and a great big tail rotor. The transmission, the gears, are massive, so there's a lot of gear whine. It's just a massive piece of machinery. You get a pair of those flying and it's oppressive."

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Comments

Squonkins May 14, 2014 @ 11:55 p.m.

What if the rotor head of a helicopter DID know what kind of mission it was on?

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