Does Leaf Blower Noise Cancel East Hampton Airport Noise?

Close the East Hampton Airport cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Sunday afternoon, March 24, is going to live as the day in history when, at one amazing moment, the problems involving the horrific noise of landing airplanes and gasoline-driven leaf blowers were solved all at the same time.

The event took place at 2:30 in the afternoon. Out on Runway 32, an East Hampton Airport employee named Carlos Rodriguez was using a Makita backpack leaf blower to clear that runway of debris and leaves when a big Gulfstream V commercial jet hove into view over the trees at the outskirts of the airport, intent on landing at the adjacent Runway 54.

Rodriguez, bent forward to blow the trash, was already experiencing teeth chattering from his 70-decibel Makita when the thunderous noise of the Gulfstream grew louder and louder. He stopped what he was doing to get a good look into the windows of the Gulfstream to perhaps see what local dignitary might be on board when, quite suddenly, everything went silent. There was no sound at all.

At first, he couldn’t believe it. This made no sense. Perhaps there was something wrong with his ears. But as the Gulfstream touched down and went past him, all of a sudden, when it got near the terminal, the two sounds returned with a roar. But what had happened? For nearly 20 seconds, from the approach of the Gulfstream until it got a hundred yards past him, the sound of the Makita and the Gulfstream apparently had cancelled out each other.

Carlos didn’t quite to know what to make of it. A helicopter landed with a terrible racket, and it and the Makita continued to fight with each other. Then a twin-engine Beechcraft came roaring in, and the sounds continued. A half-hour later, however, as he was almost finishing clearing the runway, another jet came over the trees. It wasn’t a Gulfstream. It was a big Learjet. And the same sudden drop to silence happened.

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With that, Carlos took the shoulder straps of the Makita off, turned it off, and ran to talk to Pedro Juarez, his foreman standing by their equipment truck. And soon after that, when Juarez confirmed that this was happening when a jet approached, they went to talk to the airport manager.

Everyone knows by now what happened next. It took two days, but it was found that the noise made by the Makita EB76 Leaf Blower cancelled the sound made by any jet plane whenever one landed or took off.

Further investigation during the next few days, conducted by the airport staff, several teams from landscaping firms, the town police department, Harbor Audio and the town ordinance inspecting unit determined that four different gasoline-powered leaf blowers can cancel out the sound of all four of the different kinds of aircraft using East Hampton airport—the helicopters, the single-engine planes, the twin-engine planes and the jet planes, for a distance of a quarter mile in every direction. Each of the leaf blowers only cancels out the sound of one sort of aircraft, not the other three. Furthermore, no other leaf blowers, except these particular four, do the job on any of the aircraft.

The Poulan Pro 967087101—a 48 cc, 2 stroke machine with speeds up to 200 mph and a maximum air volume of 475 cfm—cancels out all helicopter noise.

The Trybilt TB4BP—4 cycle, 150 mph and 500 cfm—cancels out all single-engine plane noise.

The Husqvarna 350BT—2 stroke, 180 mph, 7,500 rpm—cancels out all twin-engine plane noise.

The Makita EB7660—4 stroke, 200 mph, 670 fm leaf blower (the one that Carlos was using)—cancels out all jet plane noise.

All you have to do is start one of them up when its particular sort of plane approaches.

At the airport, which suffers from aircraft noise as much as any other location, airport manager Frank Brody has now ordered all four of these leaf blowers, which will be in wooden racks—three in the terminal and one out on the tarmac—for use by the general public on a first come first served basis. Signs will be posted. STRAP ONE ON FOR SILENCE. And the names of the particular leaf blowers to match the particular aircraft approaching are indicated. There are also instructions on how to turn the leaf blowers on and off.

“These 16 leaf blowers cost us about $7,000 for the lot,” Brody said. “They are money well spent. We want peace and quiet, just like everybody else.”

When asked if he planned to have a set in the airport tower, he said no. “We’re gonna tough it out.”

It’s also a fact that with the sound silenced for these two types of machines for a hundred yards in every direction, there will be times that the airport tower is within that umbrella.

Brody also points out that since the leaf blowers and the aircraft pair off exactly, the sound silenced is only those two machines—leaf blower and aircraft. So talk and instructions to board and welcome homes are heard clearly throughout.

Tonight, at East Hampton Town Hall, which is after our deadline, there is to be a great town meeting about all this, and needless to say, tempers are short. The Town Board has determined that about 600 homes are within the quarter-mile umbrella of sound cancellation as the planes take off or come in, and so the residents of these homes can achieve full aircraft and leaf-blower relief if they have a wooden rack on the premises with the four leaf blowers available for use.

At the town board meeting tonight, there is a proposition on the table that all of these 600 homes be equipped with these leaf blower racks, paid for by the town. The cost would be $1.1 million, a onetime expense out of town taxes.

“It’s the least we can do for all the long-suffering residents in that area,” said Town Commissioner Felix Match.

Already, here at 5 p.m., we can report from the parking lot what certain people intend to say about this matter. The folks are already streaming in to get a seat.

So we can report on that.

“This is blatantly unfair,” said Mitchell Tomlinson, who lives on Three Mile Harbor Road, four miles from the airport. “Why should I pay for those other people? They knew when they were building their houses, there was an airport there. It was no surprise.”

“I think the town should buy us two racks,” said Barbara Stone, who lives near the airport. “One indoor and one out. You never know where you are when you see a plane approaching.”

“Will these racks have locks on them?” asked William McCallister, a teacher from the Springs School. “These are not toys. We have to protect our children.”

A man in a suit and tie who said he was from the Federal Aviation Agency walked toward Town Hall. “This will have to be approved by the FAA,” he said.

“Some of the people in these homes will need an aide to operate these leaf blowers,” said Ben Massa of the AARP, who said he drove all the way from Islip for this meeting.

“These leaf blowers should be in every home in town,” said summer person Juliette Rockwell, “paid for by the FAA. We get an occasional low-flying plane down at the beach.”

“I am totally against leaf blowers in this town,” said Frederick Hamburg.

“But you won’t hear them when a plane comes over,” his son said.

“There should be a study done with every leaf blower ever made,” said Joyce Millrose, who described herself as a former engineer for Grumman. “Surely there is one that will work on all aircraft. I suggest the town hold off until that is done. It would save three quarters the cost.”

“The town shouldn’t pay for anything,” said artist Harriet Pumpernickle. “But they should commission a statue to be made of Carlos Rodriguez for the front lawn of Town Hall. This is his contribution.”

“I don’t think it should be allowed to point any leaf blower at an aircraft arriving or departing,” said Wayne Summers, who described himself as an aircraft owner.

“Is it true that Christie Brinkley is coming to the meeting tonight?” Janet Welke, who works at a florist shop, asked.

We said we didn’t know the answer to either of these questions.

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