Presidential motorcades? Yawn.
Inauguration shutdown? Been there, done that, dealt with.
But this latest thing? A dark-of-the-night disrupter that looks like an alien warship and rattles windows at 10 p.m.? Not. Cool.
The folks who live in and around the nation’s capital are veterans of everything from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.
But in the past few months, cupboards have been shaking and dishes have been rattling as what appear to be V-22 Ospreys — massive, tilt-rotor aircraft that don’t look or sound like the zippy dragonfly helicopters we’re all used to — hover over Northern Virginia neighborhoods.
These $70 million goliaths, with bodies as long as five-story buildings, seem to be the final straw for those in the Arlington area who quietly endure about 140 helicopter flights a day.
“This is Northern Virginia; it’s not the Green Zone,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), the congressman who’s got a heck of a neighborhood issue on his hands.
Some of his constituents are keeping a log of all the times their neighborhoods look and sound like a scene from “Independence Day.” They’re cross-referencing FAA flight zone maps and superimposing their own sightings to show that military aircraft are straying from the flight paths they’re supposed to follow and instead hovering over gardens, rattling patios and scaring the daylights out of everybody.
“On May 10th at 10:16 pm another low flying helicopter flew right over our house, circled and then flew by again about 9 minutes later,” wrote Alexander Chamandy, who has lived in the Barcroft neighborhood for 14 years and has been recording examples of the new aerial rush hour in a growing incident log.
“It’s so loud, in fact, that our house vibrates. Dishes in cupboards shake, too,” he said. “I’m a lifelong Arlingtonian, and I’ve never seen or heard anything like what we’ve had these past few months.”
One of his neighbors said it feels “like a 3.1 earthquake” in her house every day.
And another thought the latest Osprey sortie was the end of days.
“Within the last week, I was at the bus stop, and I hear this roaring noise. I wonder, ‘Are we under attack?’ ” said Guy Land, the president of the Fairlington Citizens Association and a resident of the Arlington neighborhood for 35 years. He looked up. It was an Osprey.
The V-22 Ospreys have a troubled history, with fatal crashes linked to structural problems that have claimed three dozen lives. That’s a 33,000-pound accident waiting to happen above your azalea garden.
Here’s the problem that makes it more than your average neighborhood noise complaint case: The noisy neighbors are headquartered at the Pentagon.
And those Defense Department guys are like, “What noise?”
I’m still waiting on my request for a Defense Department spokesman to explain the Osprey flights. The neighbors have been waiting for months.
Not surprisingly, filing a noise complaint with the Pentagon literally takes an act of Congress.
Beyer did that this week, with an amendment he got tacked onto the 2017 National Defense Authorization bill that requires the feds to look into why they’re making all this noise.
With his amendment, which passed the House on Tuesday night, Beyer found a way to force the Federal Aviation Administration and the Defense Department to do an airspace traffic study.
“We get around 144 helicopter flights a day here,” he said. “And about 75 percent of them are military.
“We just want to find out exactly what’s going on, and if there isn’t a better way to do that,” he said.
Military aircraft, unless there’s an emergency, are supposed to abide by the strict airspace regulations that the FAA has established for the area.
But they haven’t done that for decades, said Ed Hilz, a federal worker who has lived in the Fairlington community since 1975 and has been urging the FAA to make the military follow the approved flight paths for decades.
After about 30 years, things may be changing thanks to that one big bird.
“That’s the new wrinkle, the Ospreys,” said Hilz, who retired from the government years ago but hasn’t retired from this fight. “The Ospreys have started flying over residential areas in the past year, and they are significantly louder.”
Hilz and his neighbors have long suspected that some of the helicopters are being used to shuttle VIPs who want to avoid Virginia’s horrible traffic, though they’ve been assured by authorities that’s not the case.
But even if the Ospreys haven’t become the Pentagon’s Uber, they are a roar too far.
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