Area residents were startled Tuesday night as the ground trembled beneath their feet and the waves of sonic booms erupted in Roswell’s usually quiet night sky.
Some city officials remained in the dark about the military operations Thursday afternoon.
“I do not know what happened last night,” said Roswell Police Department spokeswoman Sabrina Morales. “We’ve gotten a lot of reports here. I heard it about 9 p.m. It felt like a tremor.”
What may have sounded similar to thunder or felt like a small earthquake, actually was the result of planned flight training of Holloman Air Force Base’s F-22 Raptures, the hottest new stealth supercruisers in the Air Force’s fleet.
Holloman’s 49th Wing will be conducting night training flights until March 31 from 4 to 10:30 p.m.
“The latest you would hear anything would be a little after 10 (p.m.),” said 1st Lt. Stephanie Schonberger of the 49th Wing Public Affairs Office. “During that time, there is a possibility of supersonic flight or supersonic booms that could be heard in the Roswell area and really along that whole region.”
The sound could carry depending on many factors, including atmospheric conditions, direction of flight and other reasons, Schonberger said.
The F-22s are in the Mach 22 class, with a supercruise capacity. They have a range of more than 1,850 miles. At a cost of $142 per fighter, the aircraft only requires one crew member and can carry one cannon, 480 rounds, has internal side weapon bays of two infrared heat-seeking air-to-air missiles and two 1,000-pound AIM-120 radar-guided air-to-air missiles, among other weapons.
The planes can fly above 50,000 feet and are built by Lockheed-Martin and Boeing.
Holloman is the only base in the region authorized for supersonic flight training. No other station could have caused the noise Tuesday night, Schonberger said.
“My guess is that it was probably us,” Schonberger said. The noise was heard farther than Roswell. “We heard from people all the way into Artesia today.”
However, Roswell resident won’t likely be disturbed often during the training, she said.
“We’re not going to be flying in the same area every night of the month,” Schonberger said. “With sonic booms in particular, it depends on weather conditions, humidity and other factors. They concentrate a boom in a certain area. It’s very difficult to scientifically say how that boom would have performed. Especially if we’re flying in mountains just to the west of you guys.”
The trainers make “every effort,” she said, to utilize airspace over White Sands Missile Range. But that airspace is only available when testing or other development activity is not being conducted. Also the airspace above McGregor Range and within military operation areas north and east of Holloman are used to train.
Sonic booms “can be startling and can have an impact,” Schonberger said. “We understand that people hear them and they can be unsettling. But we have to be prepared at any time. They have to be ready to go at any moment, which is why we do this training here. For men and women to stay current, some of the requirements have to be night flying.”
The office posts the flying schedule on the base website at holloman.af.mil. It will also email a weekly report to anyone who requests the flying schedule. If you would like to be added to the flying schedule email list, email the 49th Wing Public Affairs’ organization box at 49fw.paoffice @holloman.af.mil with the subject “Flying Schedule.”