Flying High

Next time you hear the sound of freedom above, look up!

It is the heartbeat of the area. The sound is a perfect crescendo about your head and you will find yourself in search of what made this great noise. With the largest naval base in the world minutes away in Norfolk, along with Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana in Virginia Beach and Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, there is never a dull moment in our airspace.

To give you a ballpark figure, pilots stationed to NAS Oceana fly approximately 219,000 operations a year. This is the home of he Navy’s fighter/attack squadron, the F/A-18 Hornets. You may be thinking Top Gun circa 1986, but Tom Cruise actually piloted the F-14 Tomcat, which also flew out of this case. However, the Tomcat, which has been retired since 2006 because of its heavy weight and limited maneuverability, lives on. The street that leads you to Oceana is named Tomcat, and it wasn’t named after Tom Cruise.

Langley Air Force Base, across the water, flies to the tempo of 126 daily operations primarily flying the F-22A Raptor and the F-15C Eagle. The Raptor is the Air Force’s newest fighter aircraft. According to the Air Installation Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ) study, he F-22A “represents an exceptional leap in the war fighting capabilities.” The Raptor is designed for air dominance, cruising at supersonic airspeeds greater than Mach 1, so following it with your eyes or even catching a glimpse of it in the sky is a challenge.

While jets are an unmistakable sight, another pertinent aircraft to the military that you will commonly see are transport places, also known as cargo aircrafts, such as the C-2A Greyhound. Though not the largest, it can carry up to 10,000 pounds. One of the largest of its kind is the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy that is used by the United States Air Force.

Measuring almost the length of a football field and as high as a six-story building, it is known as a strategic airlifter. This is the only aircraft that can transport any of the Army’s combat equipment. It has also been tested to carry up to one million pounds. Helicopters can also be heard almost as frequently as planes.

Some from the U.S. Coast Guard, others from the military performing operations for combat search and rescue (CSAR) or medical evacuations (MEDVAC), but for the most part they are transport helicopters presenting a wide range of transportation capabilities. Though jet noise may be a nuisance to some—more than 80 dB in some areas—to others, it represents patriotism, pride and accomplishment. Kevin Schimmel, MH-53E Crew Chief, says, “It’s the sound of freedom.” So the next time you look up in the sky, “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a—,” see if you can finish that sentence.