100 Attend Meeting About Academy Plane Noise

More than 100 people attended a meeting in northern Colorado Springs on Tuesday to address aircraft noise from the Air Force Academy, with one concerned neighbor even bringing a recording.

The issue has been growing since January when the academy changed its flight patterns from its field, just west of Interstate 25. It was compounded when budget cuts drove the academy to shut down an auxiliary airfield near Ellicott, putting more traffic in the sky above northeastern Colorado Springs.

And it had neighbors angry Tuesday.

"There is no relief and you are not being good neighbors, because if you were, we would get a break," said Helene Weiss.

The noise was loudest this past summer, when the academy's flying operations hit full speed with cadets out of class, she said.

"It sounds like you are being dive-bombed."

The academy changed its flight paths after the Federal Aviation Administration warned of conflicts with commercial routes into Denver International Airport and the Colorado Springs Airport. The academy responded by putting its T-53 trainers into a smaller bubble of airspace due east of the campus.

Academy leaders say the compacted flight patterns are safer.

"I don't want our airplanes hitting an airliner, and I don't want an airliner hitting one of our airliners," said Col. Joe Rizzuto, who commands the academy's 306th Flying Training Group.

"The final design is the safest possible design we can have given our limited airspace," Rizzuto said.

The academy did admit a mistake in not coming to neighbors sooner about the changes. Officials from the school met with the aviation community, but held no town hall meetings for neighbors.

Academy officials at the meeting focused on the value of flying programs.

Col. Kim Hawthorne, who oversees plans for the flight programs for the school's superintendent, said the flying program builds leaders.

The academy has glider and parachute programs, but the one that's driving the opposition is powered flight.

Neighbors expressed concerns about safety, but their main worry was sound.

"We've invited the Air Force Academy out to our home to experience what it feels like at 7 in the morning," said Mark Morris, a neighbor, who brought a recording of airplane noise to the meeting. "We brought the noise to the academy tonight."

Morris drew applause.

"That is really how loud it sounds," neighbor John Taylor said.

Spring Kellerman said at her house near Voyager Parkway, it got so loud this summer that her children couldn't play outside.

"It's unbearable," Kellerman said.

The academy, which acknowledged getting 65 complaints about aircraft, is trying to address the problem by finding cash to open its auxiliary field. Academy Fire Chief Ken Helgerson said he needs nine firefighters to keep a fulltime crash truck at that field.

"This is being looked at the highest levels of the Air Force," Rizzuto said.

The academy is trying to join forces with the Army to reopen the field, with cadets using it during the day and helicopters from Fort Carson using it at night.

But for now, neighbors were told they'll have to live with the noise.

Rizzuto compared it to living next to a skyscraper under construction.

"The noise you're hearing -- that's the foundation being built."

Neighbors said they'll keep fighting for their peace and quiet.

"I'm not buying the good neighbor argument," said neighbor Becky Armstrong. "This impacts 50,000 people."

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