Answer Man: Noises Up And Residents Ticked Off

Marine One carries the president, but many military helicopter flights are for training.
Marine One carries the president, but many military helicopter flights are for training. (By Haraz N. Ghanbari -- Associated Press)
By John Kelly
Sunday, July 8, 2007

Readers were not at all happy with the response Answer Man gave to Charles B. Saunders last week about hovering helicopters that disturb sleep in the early-morning hours.

Some thought he went too easy on the TV stations that launch traffic choppers. Others said he should have gone after the worst offenders: military helicopters. Another reader chimed in thusly: "Charles B. Saunders should look up and say a prayer that the helicopter is ours and not filled with terrorists."

To which Answer Man can only reply, um, ho-kay.

A week spent scanning the skies has convinced Answer Man that this is a bigger deal than he originally thought. Just ask Rob Krupicka, an Alexandria City Council member and chairman of the aviation policy committee for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

"In the last few years, there has been a steady increase in complaints about helicopter noise," Rob said. "It's a growing issue that's on the front burner for us."

Rob said he seldom hears about Answer Man's particular nemesis -- the TV news chopper -- though he agrees that hovering over a neighborhood at 6:15 a.m. just to get a traffic shot is probably something that needs looking into. Most citizen complaints stem from military helicopters and, to a lesser extent, police and hospital choppers.

Rob said he knows that many people think most flights are Pentagon bigwigs being whisked to meetings. But that's not the case.

"It really is the military running the kind of missions they need to run so troops are well prepared for any kind of incident," he said. "On top of that, hospitals are using more helicopters because traffic in the region is so bad."

The copters can't climb higher, because that might put them in the paths of airplanes.

Rob said the military wants to hear the public's complaints. The problem is that the only way to complain is by calling the military installation where the chopper is based, something that is pretty much impossible for a civilian to know.

"I think the military would like to have one common number" that people could call, Rob said. "We're not there yet."

More Maury

Who knew there were so many Pathfinder of the Seas groupies? Answer Man's recent column about Matthew Fontaine Maury and the pioneering work he did at the old Naval Observatory in Foggy Bottom garnered a shipload of responses.

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