Friday, February 3, 2012

Still Life With Robin: Loud Life With Helicopters

Photo by Jackie via Wikimedia Creative Commons
by Peggy Robin

One day last week I woke up to the sound of a circling helicopter. A few nights before that I went to bed to the sound of another one. While driving around the other afternoon, twice I was distracted by the roar of a helicopter hovering low overhead. The first one was white, with nothing on it to give away its origins (at least not to me). The other had the look of a military helicopter. Both were so low I thought they might brush by some of the taller trees.

Tuesday night there were multiple helicopters hovering over Chevy Chase, while the President’s motorcade was en route to a fundraising dinner at a private home just over the District line in Maryland. Well, that was a bit unusual; it certainly added to the overall helicopter count for the week. Not that I’ve been keeping score.

There is, however, a very irate man in Chevy Chase, DC, who’s been keeping a logbook of helicopters overhead for the past six months. (I’m not posting his name because I read about him in an email from somone else on a closed forum.) He started his logbook in the fall of 2009 and kept it up until mid-spring of 2010, recording not just the time and date of each helicopter sighting, but detailed notes on the noise and physical effects (typical comment: “rattled windows”) and duration (not typical, but not totally out of the ordinary was this remark: “45 minutes of constant circling”).  On a normal day he would note between one to four flights, but on a busy day, the number would be seven or eight. And one particularly busy day, the record was set at twelve. He’s written letters of protest to DC councilmembers and Delegate Eleanor Norton, but he’s been completely frustrated by lack of political interest in the problem. 

I understand why no one is taking up the cause. Who is going to tell the police that they should cut down on use of helicopters to help patrol cars zero in on escaping suspects? Or suggest that hospitals think twice before medivacking a patient? Or try to give orders to the military or any of the myriad agencies in our area that have some sort of interest in national security? There are so many reasons why there are so many different types of helicopters over our city. Even the traffic helicopters are important, if you’re the one getting timely advice on how to avoid being stuck in a miles-long backup.

So I doubt there’s any relief coming from the quantity of whirlybirds overhead. Not knowing much (or anything, really) about helicopter engineering, I doubt there’s a way to modify the helicopters to muffle or reduce the noise. I harbor a vague hope that they could be discouraged from flying so low. But in all honesty, I don’t think it’s a practical hope. I conclude (with some frustration) that I may just have to learn to live with the noise – though if that is indeed the case, perhaps I should concentrate all the more on trying to reduce the sort of unnecessary ear-blasting that other communities have successfully controlled: gas-powered leaf blowers! (But that is a subject for another column.)

1 comment:

  1. Yes -- leaf blowers are far worse and a fight against them could be won. Bring on the discussion!