Why Does Bethesda-Chevy Chase Hate Helicopters?

Residents complain of overhead flight noise.


If there’s one thing Bethesda-Chevy Chase residents can bond over, it's hating helicopter noise.

Several times a month editors at Patch receive questions or complaints from residents asking about the helicopters heard over their neighborhoods at night. What's going on? Who can we call about the helicopter noises? What’s the number for the county’s helicopter department?

Well, the answers are: It depends, a couple of people and there isn’t one. 

The helicopters you hear flying over Montgomery County are likely one of three types – news choppers, police choppers or medical choppers.

“Aside from the occasional news helicopter up covering a crime scene at night, helicopters are typically up at night for rescue or crime fighting reasons,” Montgomery County spokesman Patrick Lacefield told Patch. “Our police use Maryland State Police helicopters in emergencies to track missing persons, or wanted suspects, or occasionally to airlift a critically injured person.”

Residents should also remember that living in the Bethesda area means that several helicopter-using federal facilities are basically in your back yard – most notably, the National Institutes of Health and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. 

Walter Reed spokesman Joe Macri says he usually fields choppers noise complaints for the campus, but hasn’t heard of any recently. The helicopters that land on the federal campus are typically transporting patients to or from NIH and Walter Reed, Macri said.

“We really don't have that many land here,” Macri said. “We average about two a month. It's a fairly small number.”

A total of 26 helicopters landed at NIH/Water Reed last year, he said.

Some patients are also transported to nearby Suburban Hospital via helicopter, though most arrive by ambulance, according to hospital spokeswoman Ronna Borenstein.

As for whom to complain to about chopper noise – you have a few options, but don’t try Montgomery County because there is no “helicopter department,” despite rumors.

The Federal Aviation Administration can receive noise complaints through a variety of offices across the country, according to the FAA Noise Ombudsman office. Most complaints are addressed at local offices, but they can also be sent to the national ombudsman. According to Andrea Freeburg, assistant to the Noise Ombudsman, her office received 677 complaints in 2012 – though complaint numbers are likely much higher when local offices are included.

Even if you do send in a complaint, not much can really be done. 

“The FAA does not have the authority to prohibit overflights of a particular geographical area unless the operation is unsafe or inconsistent with FAA regulations,” Freeburg told Patch. “Additionally, the FAA does not have any authority over military operations.”

According to Macri at Walter Reed, military helicopters mostly follow the same control patterns as those controlled by the FAA.

“It’s just a matter of who’s controlling the aircraft,” he said.

Still, if residents think there is something amiss in their local airspace, they should contact the nearest military installment for more information regarding military operations. If a resident is concerned about helicopter noise that is from a non-military source, he or she should contact the helicopter operator, airport manager or airport noise abatement office for more information, Freeburg said.

Do you find yourself annoyed by helicopter noise around Bethesda, Potomac or Chevy Chase? Tell us in the comments!

Jim Turner February 12, 2013 at 11:52 AM
I don't mind helicopters flying over. It is only annoying when they hover over our homes at 6am. The last time this happened it was a news helicopter taping the traffic caused by an accident involving a tractor trailer carrying pineapples. I understand that news needs to be reported, but that helicopter seemed to hover in the same spot for 30 minutes or more.
Terri Pakravan February 12, 2013 at 01:08 PM
How about the legions of dump trucks traveling up and down Sangamore, Massachusetts and Goldsboro through neighborhood streets day and night for six months constructing the well guarded addition to the top secret place across from Safeway??? Horrific!
DJ Kalbacher February 12, 2013 at 01:44 PM
I don't mind the noise, it reminds me of the servicemen we are caring for!!!
Jim Ryan February 12, 2013 at 02:14 PM
We live just north of Connecticut Avenue and the Beltway, where the Beltway makes a loop south and then back north. We have helicopters over our house every day and they all go directly east or west. They appear to be following the Beltway and are going straight from the Mormon Temple to Pook's Hill in order to cut out the loop. Too bad for us.
Katie Griffith (Editor) February 12, 2013 at 03:54 PM
That's a beautiful way to think of it, DJ.
Corbin Dallas Multipass February 12, 2013 at 04:01 PM
I watch tv via antenna and the helicopters flying overhead definitely correlate to signal interference.
Stop re-electing these people February 12, 2013 at 05:41 PM
When you buy a house you acknowledge there are several heliports in the area. I think there are 7 within a mile in Bethesda.
Eric S. February 12, 2013 at 06:19 PM
I only don't like it since there's no theme music involve. Any of the following would be perfect: -- Theme song from Airwolf -- Theme song from MASH (without lyrics, since the lyrics are depressing) -- CCR's "Run Through the Jungle"
Katie Griffith (Editor) February 12, 2013 at 06:24 PM
This might be something to send to the FAA. Regulations requiring helicopter theme music sound like a good idea to me.
Rich February 12, 2013 at 07:48 PM
I work at NIH and can tell you that no helicopters have landed here in recent memory. Also, the story fails to mention that many of the helicopters are military ones, including Marine-One style craft that transport the President. My office looks out on the Bethesda skyline and most of the 'copters these days are military.
Barbara Dunkley February 12, 2013 at 10:16 PM
Large, noisy helicopters fly LOW (think window panes shaking & the cat running to her hiding place) over my house at least twice a day. The pilot uses my fence and the trees lining it as a landmark. He literally flies over it every time. The evening flight passes over anytime between 7:00 and 9:00pm. This is someone's regular commute home. The country is flat broke and, security considerations or not, we don't have the $$$ to pay for some government grandee's daily commute via helicopter.
Barbara Dunkley February 12, 2013 at 10:24 PM
Terri, I am SO glad you brought this up. Putting this 'Security Campus' in what has been a quiet residential area is a very bad idea. Up to 3,000 employees are estimated to be commuting to work when it is completed some time in 2016. What is that going to do to the quality of life in our neighborhood when an extra thousand (at least) cars are trying to make their way to work up Massachusetts Ave and Sangamore Road between 7:00 and 9:00 am? Frankly, my biggest concern is security itself. My child attends the school next door and upon hearing of the new Spy Center's construction plans said, "So that means our neighborhood will be a new target?" Out of the mouths of babes...
Steve V February 16, 2013 at 03:48 PM
The privilege of living in the city involves tolerating some of the costs, noise being one. Changing the way one appraises the noise (like DJ above for example) will allow a cognitive shift to occur that will habituate all but the most sensitive to the noise. In college, visitors would often ask me "How do you sleep or study with those trains going by?" I would usually respond "What trains?"
Joe Galvagna February 16, 2013 at 04:12 PM
Who was there first? You knew that facility was there when you moved in. Put up with it or move simple. That is a main military medical facility helping save the lives of the men and women who protect your right to live free and where ever you want. The medical facility is not going away but you can move or just shut up.
mary knight February 17, 2013 at 09:27 AM
Per the Walter Reed spokesperson's comment: If the helicopters were only 26 last year, that is a dramatic reduction. I both live along the base and used to work there at the height of the OEF/OIF and other Middle East conflicts, and there were, sadly, almost daily transports then, it seemed. Then of course the multiple helos that accompany any presidential visit. Now there are FAR fewer pass-overs. I agree with others that low-hovering search helos can be very disconcerting.
Dd February 18, 2013 at 02:39 PM
is it possible you could give me more info on the aircraft, colors, size, shape and any visual numbers. Thanks D. dcheliport@aol.com
Jay Friedman February 18, 2013 at 03:45 PM
I agree. We wanted the new project to go here in Prince Georges County, But Montgomery County wanted to keep the jobs lost when DMA moved to Va. I guess MoCo people need to count their blessings and stop whining.
jnrentz1 February 19, 2013 at 02:15 PM
So there is some helicopter noise. Get over it.
Tim Gillespie March 15, 2013 at 05:56 PM
I don't mind a little noise but when the house shakes and walls vibrate, I'd day they are flying a little too low for a residential area. There needs to be some regulation.
Kathy March 26, 2013 at 04:37 PM
They fly over my neighborhood on a daily 2-3 times a day basis. they start late afternoon about 4 pm and then about 6-7 and 9-10 EVERY day. It is a regular route and the time is almost the same every day. They fly E-W and W-E.
Rachele Sills April 26, 2013 at 04:57 PM
It seems the military flights patrol around residential area day and night after 911. Those flights make loud noise frequently and follow innocent citizens everywhere. It's very annoying and disturbing!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »