CLOUDCROFT -- The Holloman Air Force Base commander met with mountain residents again about sonic booms, this time in Cloudcroft on Thursday and with mitigation measures to share.
The commander, Col. David Krumm, said Holloman has been working to lessen the impact of sonic booms on locals ever since the community meeting in Weed on March 28. Mountain residents at that meeting conveyed their suffering to base commanders, with stories of broken windows, possible concussions and cow abortions. Residents stressed that the booms are much more intense in the mountains than in the Tularosa Basin.
During a group interview April 6, some residents expressed disappointment that the commander had what they called incorrect facts in his presentation to the community March 28. One resident disputed how many pounds per square inch of pressure, or psi, the sonic booms exert on the ground in mountain areas.
"I am not a physicist," Krumm told residents at the Zenith Park Pavilion on Thursday. "We've taken data from studies NASA has done and whatnot. There are disputes over psi and how much this focuses that. I accept that. I can only tell you what we're told, and we continue to research."
Krumm said the base will live up to its responsibilities to local communities -- in particular, if property is damaged by sonic booms, the Air Force will pay. He repeated this several times throughout the meeting.
Krumm discussed low-level routes, most of which are on the west side of White Sands Missile Range. Krumm said the German air force flies low-level routes, and other aircraft from other military bases fly them as well. He explained the low-level routes are not owned by Holloman, but the Federal Aviation Administration.
Krumm said since he has been commander at Holloman, no F-22 has been scheduled for or flown a low-level route out of the base. He said he canceled low-level flights the first year he was at Holloman, although he doesn't know if the new commander, who takes over June 22, will follow suit.
"But I think he will," Krumm said.
Krumm said there are some routes that are 100 feet above ground level, but these don't exist over the mountains. He said since the Weed meeting, he asked the FAA to raise the lowest of some of the low-level routes to 1,000 feet AGL.
Krumm explained the process may take time as it takes a lot of FAA approval. In the meantime, he has required pilots to fly at least 500 feet AGL over populated areas. He said he hasn't yet been able to get the German air force to agree to that, but he believes they will.
Krumm noted most complaints the base gets are not about low-level flights, but sonic booms. He explained what causes the sonic booms and the importance of training F-22 pilots. Pilots are flying 15-20 miles per minute, and that's how fast they must react.
"It's kind of like a NASCAR driver," Krumm said. "If you're driving around the city streets doing 35 mph, you're probably not going to be ready for Talladega when you're doing 200 mph and every split second counts a lot."
Krumm said the plane is not for fighting al-Qaida, but "for what comes next." He said half the base's F-22 squadron is deployed right now, though he can't say where.
"They're making our enemies nervous and our friends assured," Krumm said.
Krumm said the F-22s also participate in Operation Noble Eagle, where they patrol U.S. cities to protect against another 9/11-type attack.
Krumm talked about the different sonic booms, the carpet boom and the high-intensity boom. Whenever a craft flies faster than sound there is a boom, and the carpet boom steadily goes along the ground following the aircraft.
High-intensity booms come from turning, which focuses the boom from wide to narrow and makes it a lot more severe on the ground. Krumm said he has prioritized mitigating the high-intensity booms by trying to refocusing pilots on how and where they do maneuvers.
Krumm said booms can break windows and do other damage if they are intense enough. They have, in fact, broken mirrors and windows before the base started mitigation measures.
"What we are told, and what we believe, is that you cannot do physical damage based upon the way that we fly and where we fly," Krumm said. "And that's what our charter is, to maintain those parameters."
One suggestion from Weed residents was to use flight simulators more to train F-22 pilots. Krumm said there are no simulators at Holloman; they were going to build some, but then the decision was made to move the F-22s out of Holloman.
Another Weed suggestion had been to schedule more flights over WSMR, and utilize weekends. Krumm said the pilots would prefer to fly over WSMR rather than the mountains. He said the Army owns WSMR, which is a test organization, so if an agency pays them money to use the space then pilots must fly over the mountains.
Krumm said pilots like to fly from Holloman all the way north to Truth or Consequences, and he requests that space from WSMR every day.
Krumm said another measure taken was to vary the axis along which the F-22 pilots do their training so they don't fly over the same residents all the time.
"One of the reasons I'm here is to let you guys know: It may not seem like it, but I'm trying," Krumm said. "We're trying to mitigate as best we can."
Krumm said the base broadcasts flying times on the radio, as well as posting the schedule on its website and in the newspaper, so residents can know when to expect booms.
"If we break something with a sonic boom, dagnammit, we're gonna pay for it," Krumm said.
Krumm was asked in Weed about claims and how many are paid out; he found out the information and shared it in Cloudcroft. He said F-22s started flying here in earnest in fiscal year 2010. In FY 2010, there were 11 claims; eight were paid, and three were denied. FY 2011 saw 15 claims; 10 were paid, two were denied and three claims that were originally denied were reopened after the meeting in Weed. There have been 18 claims for this year so far, six of which were paid; four were denied and the rest are pending. He said the base has about a 65 percent pay rate on claims now.
Krumm said the average processing time for a claim is 40 days. He said any claims under $5,000 are adjudicated from Holloman, but any that are higher must be sent to higher headquarters -- which takes much longer to process.
To file a claim, Krumm said to call the base -- public affairs or the legal office -- and relay the time, date and what happened. The base will then send out a letter with a form for the claimant to fill out. If there is an inspection necessary, the base will contact the claimant and schedule one.
Krumm said if the claim is denied, there is an appeals process.
Krumm said he flew his last flight in the F-22 on Thursday, and soon he will be off to Harvard to study international relations. The F-22s are moving to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., in January. Krumm didn't know if his successor, Col. Andrew Croft, would continue the community meetings about the sonic booms, but said he was going to recommend it.
Krumm said the meetings are good for the communities and the Air Force. It gives local residents the chance to interact with the base commanders and know that the Air Force is not just indiscriminately booming them for no reason. He felt it was also therapeutic for residents to have the opportunity to voice their grievances directly to the commander.
Krumm said there will be a dramatic decrease in sonic booms with the departure of the F-22 and arrival of the F-16 training squadrons from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. He said although the F-16 can fly supersonic, it is much more of an effort for that craft. The F-22 will break the sound barrier "without even trying."
"It's kind of like having a Ferrari and driving the speed limit," Krumm said. "If you don't watch it, you're going to go sailing past a patrolman."