One day last week, when the wind was out of the northwest at 20 miles an hour and it was very cold, Steven Newman stood on the ice in the wilderness at Dulles International Airport, checked his microphone, pointed to the sky, and said, "Here she comes."
A nearby tree line blocked the view, but the whine of the jet engines was unmistakable. Suddenly, the delta-winged Concorde swooped over on the last mile of its approach to the Dulles runway.
While a tape recorder whirred, a two-man crew from Northern Virginia Community College noted time, wind, temperature and other pertinent data needed tofeed the Federal Aviation Administration's $1-million program to monitor the noise of the Concorde. It's dull work.
Newman, who supervises the program, said that "the glamour of noise monitoring fades quickly," especially in subfreezing temperatures.
But every time a Concorde takes off or lands at Dulles - not a total of 12 times a week - three mobile crews and eight permanent installations record the event.
Crew members, Newman said, have had to fight snakes, muddy dogs, ticks ("Yuo wouldn't believe the ticks in the summertime") and, on one occasion an angry farmer to carry out their mission.
The purpose of all of this is to carryout an orde of former Transportation Secretary William T. Coleman Jr., who permitted the Concorde to land at Dulles on a 16-month test basis and said that the plane's noise would be closely checked.
What the checkers have found is that the Concorde is about what it was advertised to be - twice as noisy on takeoff as such four-engine jets as the Boeing 707s and four-times as noisy as a newer, quieter jumbo jet.
Complaints from people who live around Dallas reached a peak of 186 in September, and have been running around 100 a month since then. When the Concorde was diverted unannounced recently to Baltimore-Washington International Airport because of ice on the Dulles runways, however, there were no complaints there on either the landing or takeoff.
The information gathered by the mobile crews and eight fixed stations is fed into a computer at Dulles and reproduced in the multitude of formulas used to measure sound.
Noise is being checked at the office measuring points established by federal regulations and also in other areas, such as schools and residential communities.
It has been the position of the British and the French operators of the Concorde - that they can fly the Concorde so that most of its noise impacts on the airport, not on residential communities. That is what should count, the Europeans argue, not how loud the plane is at official measuring point. At Dulles, the official measuring points are in the middle of pastures.