From Murray Rankin's Desk: The rumbles of Whidbey Island

After Jack Knox’s recent column about ‘the Rumbles’, several constituents have contacted me seeking information. I hope the following is useful to those who are curious or concerned about the occasional rumbling we hear from across the strait.

Across the water from Victoria is Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, home to dozens of U.S. Navy jets. They are mostly electronic warfare planes, built to detect and disrupt enemy radar and radio signals. In 2008, the base began replacing its contingent of Cold War-era EA-6B Prowlers with more modern EA-18G Growlers, a twin-seat jet similar to Canada’s CF-18s. It was around this time that Victoria residents began to notice ‘the Rumbles.’ 

The Navy uses two airfields on Whidbey Island to teach Growler pilots how to land on the decks of aircraft carriers at sea. A carrier’s short flight deck—outlined in white paint on the runways at Whidbey Island—requires a very particular and very noise style of approach. While passenger jets glide to a gentle landing with minimal engine power, the Growlers approach at close to full power, moderating their speed with flaps and airbrakes. As their wheels touch down they actually increase power. This ensures that if they fail to catch one of the arresting wires, they have enough power to immediately bounce back into the sky and circle around for another try. 

With just 50 kilometers of open water between these airfields and Victoria, this “touch and go” training cycle of window-rattling approaches and ear-splitting climb-outs is the most likely culprit for the rumblings reported by Victoria residents.

According to the U.S. Navy, the new EA-18G Growlers aren’t much louder than their predecessors but they do emit noise at a lower frequency, perhaps explaining why the rumbles carry so far across the strait. In a letter to the Times Colonist last year, a local sailor suggested that, under the right conditions, calm seas and low clouds could act like twin mirrors, channeling the sound towards Victoria more clearly.

So, for those disturbed by the noise, what can be done? 

The first step is to report each incident to a recording line at Whidbey Island (1-370-257-6665), making sure to mention the time. You can also email your report to comments.naswi@navy.mil. The Navy tracks noise complaints by time and location and plans to adjust its training schedule accordingly. Those with more general questions can reach staff in the Public Affairs Office at 1-360-257-2286. 

With more carrier landing practice scheduled for Thursday and Friday afternoons this week, keep an ear out for rumbles. Confirming that they match the operations at Whidbey Island could help locals there work with the Navy to shift the training runs to less disruptive times or places.