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Is this normal for an air show?
September 6, 2010 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Is it common for Air Shows to have military aircraft fly low over the downtown of large urban cities?

Every labor day weekend in Toronto there is an International Air Show over Lake Ontario to the South. This year was a bit more low-key than usual because of the weather. Over the past several years it has been customary for F-18's to make extremely loud (window rattling) strafing-style runs over downtown and west Toronto. If I didn't know better, I would get the distinct impression that the Air Force was trying to intimidate someone here. I'm not the only one to find the noise annoying. Other than that, I am usually generally curious about aviation technology.

Just wondering: is it common for other Air Shows in North America to have military aircraft fly low over the downtown centers of large urban cities?
posted by ovvl to Society & Culture (40 answers total)
 
Yes, very common. Having lived through a war and lots of shelling, it scares me great deal when this happens in various cities I've been around around the time of an air show.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:33 PM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


This happens in Chicago every year. If they were trying to intimidate someone they picked the worst time to do so, when everyone's expecting it.
posted by amethysts at 1:36 PM on September 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


Very common all over the world it seems.

One comes to appreciate how much effort goes into making commercial aircraft quiet when you see how loud some of that military gear is......
posted by TravellingDen at 1:38 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yep. Every year (Fargo, ND).
posted by geekchic at 1:41 PM on September 6, 2010


San Francisco here, and yes, they do the same. I hate Fleet Week.
posted by rtha at 1:44 PM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Having lived in a couple of cities with (what we call in the US) Air National Guard bases, I can say it's not just around airshow time that they bring out the F-16s. Those weekend warriors train on a pretty regular basis. Once, here in Tulsa, they accidentally dropped a dummy bomb on somebody's house. Oops.

But yes, it happens even more around air show time.
posted by wierdo at 1:45 PM on September 6, 2010


Every year in Cleveland. I lived right near the border of Cleveland and Cleveland Heights in a residential area, and every year, a plane buzzed my house and the pool where I worked. I always assumed that they did it because the kids (myself included!) got a kick out of it.
posted by emilyd22222 at 1:47 PM on September 6, 2010


They're not trying to buzz downtown. It's just a side effect of performing over the lake, far away from the base/airport they're flying out of.

They've got to get to and from the performance area over the lake, and having downtown right next to the performance area means that they have to use the air over downtown to position themselves for (some of) their next runs over the performance area.

In places where the airshow is held at the airport or base where the performance is, and where the airport/base isn't itself smack downtown, this shouldn't happen very much.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:58 PM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I may be the only person who really misses jet noise.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:59 PM on September 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not in North America, but they do it every now and then in Australia too. There was a commemoration in Sydney the other day for the anniversary of the New Guinea campaign which involved an FA-18 making a low pass and a vertical climb over the CBD---only, the RAAF didn't tell anyone first, producing a lot of scared and annoyed office workers. "In my country they sack Generals for that", my Dutch colleague told me.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 2:02 PM on September 6, 2010


UK: less so over big cities, but in rural areas they'll often use villages/distinctive houses as visual markers for approaches to firing ranges, so some people get 'buzzed' all the time. And I used to live in a (small) town next to a base that had an airshow - lots and lots of noise, flyovers that I attributed to them getting in place for their runs by the audience at the show.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:08 PM on September 6, 2010


Happens several times a week during August here in Edinburgh, Scotland at the start of the each night's Tattoo.

Must to the consternation of the local wildlife.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:10 PM on September 6, 2010


All of the time. I remember distinctly being in Lake Michigan the day of the Air and Water Show and watching the Blue Angles come in super low real close to where I was.

The only time I've been intimidated was in mid-September, 2001. I live in Washington, DC, right on the flight path of the helicopter squadron that ferries the President. On that Sunday morning me and my housemates were sitting having breakfast on the back porch when we heard an incredibly loud aircraft noise. I asked a roomate to go in and put on the television to see if there was any danger. Soon enough, the Marine helicopter squadron appeared above, escorted by 4 F-18 fighters.

We were scared shitless until we saw they were US jets.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:13 PM on September 6, 2010


UK: less so over big cities, but in rural areas they'll often use villages/distinctive houses as visual markers for approaches to firing ranges, so some people get 'buzzed' all the time. And I used to live in a (small) town next to a base that had an airshow - lots and lots of noise, flyovers that I attributed to them getting in place for their runs by the audience at the show.

My uncle's father was a Colonel in the U.S. Air Force who commanded B-52 Strategic Air Command missions and later commanded an air base. He retired to Pensacola, Florida, home of the Blue Angels. The commander of the Angels found out that he lived in town and they got the address. After that, my uncle's dad's house became one of those 'visual markers' and not by accident. They must have thought it dreadfully funny.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:17 PM on September 6, 2010 [4 favorites]


Just confirming: it happens because the air show is usually near where a lot of people are. It also happens because a significant portion of the public loves large powerful machines. And because people who get to fly large powerful machines like to show off that fact.

Protip: the Friday before the Chicago air show is sometimes a better day for it if you like seeing planes all over the place scaring people. It is practice day.
posted by gjc at 2:40 PM on September 6, 2010


Oh, and just to make you feel a little better about it, be glad you don't also get bombed and shelled. My grandma lived near a base and at least twice a month they'd be flying jets overhead dropping bombs and shelling a hill with artillery out behind her house. Being a kid at the time, I thought it was the most awesome thing ever.
posted by wierdo at 2:46 PM on September 6, 2010


I was in Amman a few weeks back when an israeli fighter buzzed downtown flying very very low. It shook all the windows and set off car alarms. Scared the shit out of us. Clearly there was some kind of message intended by that.
posted by milinar at 3:19 PM on September 6, 2010


i lived in Seattle in the 1990s and Seafair always brought the goddamned Blue Angels to town

i lived in a predominantly Southeast Asian area, mostly Vietnamese & Cambodian, and let me just say that it was difficult to watch the expressions on many of my neighbors faces when the Angels would strafe our neighborhood

important to note that they never strafed the more wealthy & predominantly white residential areas nearby...
posted by jammy at 3:51 PM on September 6, 2010


Ever since the start of the US war in Iraq--maybe before that, but I can't be sure because it happens every year so it tends to fade...the first fall football game at U-M stadium gets a military jet flyover, because what goes better with college football than a show of awesome military power?

When we lived on the path to Selfredge ANG base, we used to get what I took to be recon planes flying just above tree top level. That was creepier than the Air Show type of stuff, but it does make me wonder how long before humankind no longer needs this type of pantomime.
posted by beelzbubba at 3:52 PM on September 6, 2010


Seafair, here in Seattle, brings the Blue Angels right through downtown - *and* over the "more wealthy & predominantly white residential area" where I live, especially during the practice sessions.

It isn't my favorite weekend, since it gives the dog fits and wakes all sleeping children, but it's A Thing here every summer. If you're paying attention, you know it's coming up the first weekend of August every year, so planning accordingly helps.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 3:59 PM on September 6, 2010


The Blue Angels do it in both Cleveland and Chicago. The performance is mostly over the lake (as may be the case in Toronto as well), but since downtown is right next to the lake in all of these cities, pretty much everyone within a few miles of the lake gets the window-rattling experience.
posted by ubersturm at 4:00 PM on September 6, 2010


Pasadena, CA, home of the Rose Bowl and parade, usually gets a flyover in conjunction with some event, and there's some pretty pricey real estate A(and gosh darn it! owned by white people) in the flight plan. One year, a B2 stealth bomber did the flyover. It was cool.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:01 PM on September 6, 2010


FWIW, where I was brought up in NE England, we used to get various fighter jets low over the town all the time. You could always tell supply teachers at school because they'd rush to the window when one came over. Never particularly bothered me.
posted by prentiz at 4:03 PM on September 6, 2010


Happened in Tucson on a yearly basis when the Blue Angels came by. That can be insane. We'd also get buzzed by A-10s or other aircraft going to Davis-Monthan any time we were in the flight path. One time on campus I heard a HELL of a rumble coming by and I looked up just in time to see a 747 ferrying the space shuttle to DM for a refuel before going on to Florida. That was awesome.
posted by holterbarbour at 4:03 PM on September 6, 2010


Nthing Seattle. There's a longstanding tradition of complaining about it or loving it which doesn't seem to split on ideological lines, if you take me as an example. I'm a frothing-at-the-mouth peacenik from way back and I LOVE seeing, hearing, and then not hearing, the planes.
posted by mwhybark at 4:52 PM on September 6, 2010


I don't know how often military jets fly through downtown San Diego proper, but October (the month of the Miramar air show) is hell for certain suburban and commercial areas, including my office. In fact, the company I work for was bought by Boeing a couple of years ago in October, and there were a great many jokes made about the fact that we could hear the Boeing execs' speeches because of the jet noise. Traffic also gets worse during my evening commute because people are watching the practice runs instead of the freeway.

Be glad it's just the noise though -- there have been a couple of accidents in the area during training flights that have caused the deaths of either the pilots or the civilians whose houses were also the crash sites. Sad stuff.

Now, the flight path to the San Diego airport does run directly over downtown. In fact, there are a couple of bars directly under the flight path that have have adopted airplanes and travel as their theme.
posted by natabat at 4:53 PM on September 6, 2010


I moved to Seattle and heard people talking about how the Blue Angels buzz downtown and how loud it is...and those people were right. It's seriously loud, depending on where you are. In a "sweet" spot the noise can be deafening.
posted by zardoz at 5:03 PM on September 6, 2010


I have now experienced this in three cities - LA (Rose parade flyovers), SF (Fleet week) and Seattle (Seafair).

I like whizbang science and engineering and big noisy fast things for the sake of big noisy fast things.

I do not like military jets loaded full of fuel making low passes and risky aerobatic maneuvers over heavily populated urban environments. I dislike this for a number of reasons.

A) The noise can actually kill people - people have heart attacks over this kind of thing. It startles pets. It can damage houses. It can damage your hearing. Since I've worked on large sound systems I know what 100+ decibels sounds like and feels like. I've heard jets making low passes that without a doubt exceed 110-120 dB where I was sitting inside a brick or concrete building. Serious hearing damage begins at around 95-100 db.

B) There are many known airshow accidents that have resulted in fatalities to innocent bystanders. Planes crash and accidents, even when piloted by extremely well trained and skilled pilots. These airshows risk the lives and homes of innocent bystanders on the ground who have absolutely no say or choice in the matter. This to me is not ok at all.

C) Politics. Military airshows are little more than shows of force and recruitment drives. How many young, impressionable kids have decided then and there to join the military when they grow up? Lots. Pretty much every military pilot I've ever met admitted they joined because "Woah, those planes are cool, man!". Some acknowledge the reality that they'll either end up at a desk, doing ground support or flying milk runs in cargo planes - but many sign up with false expectations that they'll automatically end up flying high performance combat aircraft for fun.

D) Military airshow proponents often argue that it's just for fun and there's no politics involved. I disagree with this statement - you can't have a military parade and demonstration that's apolitical. If you were talking about civilian aircraft and civilian pilots doing aerobatics and barnstorming for fun I'd agree with you, but when you have full military dress, colors and branches of the armed forces on display it's not apolitical. It's a show of force and inherently a spoken or an unspoken threat of violence of that force.
posted by loquacious at 5:10 PM on September 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


My cousin was a Blue Angel and, honestly, I think they often do this kind of stuff for fun and to show off. "Hey, check out your mighty military!"

He came to visit us once in his Blue Angel plane and when he left after lunch, he took off, spiraling straight into the air and then did another pass with a sonic boom. Our base was a training base so he was just having fun, knowing his audience would love it. We totally did!
posted by amanda at 5:34 PM on September 6, 2010


was difficult to watch the expressions on many of my neighbors faces when the Angels would strafe our neighborhood

If people in my neighborhood were being strafed, I would not be hanging around watching the expressions on their faces.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:39 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


It happens here in Melbourne for the Grand Prix, and it scares the bemoses out of me because I don't pay attention to the dates it's supposed to be on. I have no idea why it should be tolerated.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:05 PM on September 6, 2010


It would seem that most air show accidents involve the pilot, more than crowds of spectators, at least in the US, with notable exceptions. Living by LAX could be equally problematic.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:21 PM on September 6, 2010


god, I hate Fleet Week.
A few years ago, it was scheduled for the same weekend as Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a huge free concert in Golden Gate Park. It was really annoying to have an amazing fiddle break drowned out by jets, but kind of amusing to see 300,000 people simultaneously flip them off.
posted by chbrooks at 6:47 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


Even the airshow at my small town features these sort of low flybys by aircraft; though 3/4ers of the town is directly in the flight path of the airport. Much more annoying is the dozens of sorties by heavily laden water bombers everyday when there is an active forest fire close by.

jammy writes "i lived in a predominantly Southeast Asian area, mostly Vietnamese & Cambodian, and let me just say that it was difficult to watch the expressions on many of my neighbors faces when the Angels would strafe our neighborhood

"important to note that they never strafed the more wealthy & predominantly white residential areas nearby..."


Unless air shows are a lot more hard core in the US than in Canada no one is being strafed [*,*,*] during these displays of military prowess.
posted by Mitheral at 6:50 PM on September 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


While I wouldn't call Abbotsford, BC large or urban, it puts on an international air show every August. I like it, but my cats and dog do not. They do, however, become accustomed to the noise the third day or so. Until the next year, that is, when it starts all over.
posted by deborah at 7:06 PM on September 6, 2010


Note: we have access to a dictionary.
posted by ovvl at 8:56 PM on September 6, 2010


Normal. Not necessarily good, but normal. A lot of people like these shows, probably even a lot of people who very carefully do their little bits to protect the environment (contributing to wildlife protection groups, using biodegradable bags, supporting noise regulations, etc) and then encourage air shows right over their homes. I don't know how much one negates the other, but I would bet that just one unnecessary flight of a large aircraft cancels out a lot of little household efforts to protect the environment. People have conflicting desires.
posted by pracowity at 2:14 AM on September 7, 2010


Seafair, here in Seattle, brings the Blue Angels right through downtown - *and* over the "more wealthy & predominantly white residential area" where I live, especially during the practice sessions.

good to hear they're equal opportunity these days...

also: very important note! i was using the term "strafe" quite loosely - i sincerely apologize if anyone was actually confused & really truly thought i meant that the Blue Angels were really truly actually machine-gunning downtown Seattle

really
posted by jammy at 4:57 PM on September 7, 2010


Rexdale and other parts of Etobicoke are treated to loud, low-flying planes daily, courtesy of Pearson Airport. Our sympathy for Trinity-Bellwoods (decidedly genteel compared to Rexdale) is not high.
posted by jb at 9:44 PM on September 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regret that "the lake is near downtown" excuse seems lame after a few of hours of close action directly over downtown (once a year).
posted by ovvl at 7:04 PM on September 8, 2010


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