Just what the hell was that sonic boom everyone heard in New York and New Jersey this afternoon? Nobody has come forward to claim responsibility for the audible anomaly. UPDATE: It’s probably from the Navy. See details below.
The New Jersey Air National Guard, which has F-16C/Ds based near Atlantic City, is very active in the region. Foxtrot Alpha got in touch with officials at the the 177th Fighter Wing to see if one of their jets may have blown past “the number” a little too close to civilization. The answer was no, and that all jets were accounted for at the time of the boom. They seemed as stumped as anyone else.
What’s stranger is that the U.S. Geological Survey is reporting the Richter Scale-registering event occurred over Hammonton, just 16 miles east of where New Jersey’s F-16s are based. In other words, dozens of miles inland, not out over the sea.
Although there are F-15s based to the north in Massachusetts and F-16s based to the south at Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington D.C., they probably would have taken responsibility for the event by now and could not be reached.
The U.S. Navy, on the other hand, is highly active in the vast warning areas off the East Coast. As you can see below, many of these restricted areas lay right off the New York/New Jersey coastline.
Navy jets flying at high-speeds off the coast of New Jersey have caused disturbances before. In 2013, sonic booms caused by F-35 testing was reported. Then again in 2014, loud sonic booms attributed to exercises conducted by the Navy were reported off the Garden State’s coast.
Foxtrot Alpha has reached out to the Navy Air Warfare Center public affairs officers for comment, although we have not yet heard back.
Still, if the USGS’s stated location of the event is correct, and the epicenter of the boom occurred over New Jersey, not far off its coast, a Navy exercise would be impossible to blame.
There are other explanations for such an event occurring. Fighter aircraft of all branches often transit the U.S.. Maybe for some reason one broke the sound barrier. McGuire Air Force Base is also located in New Jersey. Although no fighters are based there, it is a busy hub of military activity. A fighter departing from the base could have caused the boom, although it is extremely unlikely.
Meteorites can also cause sonic booms, although we have heard no reports of seeing flashes in the sky associated with such a atmospheric entry. Then there is the chance that maybe the cause is of military origin but not disclosed to the public. California has been hit by a recent spate of similar sonic booms emerging from the Pacific Ocean. Some have been blamed on Navy training; others remained unexplained.
Temporary Flight Restrictions due to VIP movements, such as those of the president, can also be the catalyst for sonic booms. Alert fighters breaking the sound barrier as they chase down potentially threatening aircraft has occurred before, and sometimes with spectacular results.
The 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland was launched on a threatening aircraft approaching President Obama during a visit to Seattle in 2010. The F-15s exceeded the speed of sound at relatively low altitude while racing north at maximum speed, causing broken windows and some light structural damage along the I-5 corridor.
In the end, it was a unaware seaplane pilot who caused the alarm and the plane safely landed before the F-15s arrived. Still, the event was a major news story.
In this case, no restrictions seem to have been in place, although one is set for tomorrow. Additionally, F-16s from New Jersey or F-15s from Massachusetts would have made the intercept and we would have probably known about it by now, although we still don’t have a response from the Massachusetts Air National Guard out of Barnes Airport, where the F-15s are based, so they could still be responsible.
For now, the boom remains a mystery, although we have heard from NORAD that some statement by the Department of Defense will be coming fairly soon. Stay tuned for updates.
Update: The U.S. Navy has said the sonic boom was very likely caused by the F-35C, the Navy’s version of the Joint Strike Fighter, that was executing test maneuvers in the area today. The F-35C is currently flying test flights out of Navy’s premier test base, Naval Air Station Patuxent River, located in Maryland.