Sonic booms were likely test flights out of Maryland, officials say
The sonic booms that shook residents across several states Thursday afternoon, starting in New Jersey, may have been from test flights out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, a Defense Department spokesman confirmed Thursday.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Crosson, the defense press officer for the Pentagon-based Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, released a statement Thursday evening confirming that the sonic booms were likely the result of the test flights out of Patuxent River.
He said an F-35C from the station in Patuxent was conducting "supersonic testing in a cleared military flight area" off the east coast Thursday involving an F/A-18 aircraft along with an F-35C aircraft.
"The test wing is critical to the safe test and evaluation of all types of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft in service and in development and is primarily based out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Other military aircraft, including both Navy and Air Force, also frequently use the ranges for testing and training," Crossen said.
According to Crossen, the test flights are routine and generally take place offshore, in an area known as the Test Track, which runs parallel to the coast of the Delmarva Peninsula. Although the Navy generally takes precautions to make sure the flights have little impact on the community, some of the sonic booms are occasionally felt on land, the spokesman said.
Earlier Thursday, a public affairs officer from Naval Air Station Patuxent River also commented on the sonic booms, confirming that test flights were taking place.
"Aircraft from Naval Test Wing Atlantic were conducting routine flight testing in the Atlantic Test Ranges this afternoon that included activities which may have resulted in sonic boom," Connie Hempel, public affairs officer for the station, told New Jersey 101.5 Thursday afternoon.
The first sonic boom was reported near Hammonton at 1:24 p.m. and then felt throughout New Jersey, Long Island Connecticut and elsewhere — but "we were out there around that time," Hempel said.
The Atlantic Test range extends from New Jersey to North Carolina.
NJ State Police Sgt. First Class Gregory Williams said state police have received a few calls from New Jerseyans about the tremors, but they’ve been directing those calls to the U.S. Geological Survey.
"We’re not even investigating at this point,” he said.
John Bellini, a geophysicist with the USGS, said the agency has been documenting the booms that people were feeling today. He said it’s quite possible that aircraft conducting training exercises could have caused the sonic booms.
"Sure the aircraft could have caused that,” Bellini said, adding that when such exercises take place off the coast, they can often be felt at great distances. “Sonic booms seem to travel farther over water. We’ve seen it many times."
The Defense Department spokesman also confirmed that certain atmospheric conditions could make it possible for sound from the sonic booms to travel.
"Test aircraft from the naval air station execute supersonic flights almost daily in the test track, and most of these sonic booms are never felt on land. However, under certain atmospheric conditions there is an increased potential to hear the sound," Crossen said.
— With reporting by Toniann Antonelli, Louis C. Hochman and Annette Petriccione.