Sonic booms from supersonic flight across north central Wisconsin Thursday

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NORTH CENTRAL WISCONSIN (WSAW) -- Major Matt Wunderlin with the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs confirmed to NewsChannel 7 that fighter jets were flying at supersonic speeds over the Volk military operating area on Thursday, which includes counties in North Central Wisconsin.

Multiple viewers reported hearing sonic booms in areas of Portage and Wood counties, a sound occurring when jets fly over the speed of sound. Wunderlin told us they checked plane data Thursday after receiving complaints to ensure no Federal Aviation Administration or military rules were broken during the training Thursday, which is part of the two-week Northern Lightning annual joint training exercise.

Wunderlin says that there are rings around certain areas where they are not allowed to fly supersonic overhead. Two of those towns, he noted, are Wautoma and Wisconsin Rapids. He adds that there’s a common misconception surrounding supersonic flight, in that many believe supersonic flight is prohibited across the board over civilian areas.

“We’re trying to simulate a real combat environment as much as possible, and so there are occasions when the aircraft are traveling supersonic. It's between a narrow window, and there are some parameters around when the aircraft are able to go supersonic. So, essentially they have to be above 30,000 feet, and they have to be level or climbing to mitigate any sort of noise that would be associated with going supersonic,” Wunderlin explained.

According to the U.S. Air Force, “Supersonic operations over land must be conducted above 30,000 feet or, when below 30,000 feet, in specially designated areas approved by Headquarters United States Air Force, Washington, D.C., and the Federal Aviation Administration.”

“The Volk military operating area, it is one of those areas where the military aircraft are allowed to go supersonic,” Wunderlin noted. “It has to be within those FAA and military guidelines.” The FAA prohibits civil supersonic flight, with exceptions for certain military operating areas. Those areas are based on environment assessments of where and how they are able to fly supersonic, and the flight has to occur when over 30,000 feet and only when flying level or ascending.

The supersonic flight today occurred when the aircraft were above 39,000 feet and flying level, Wunderlin said. "Occasionally geographical features can exacerbate noise," he added.

“When we get feedback from the community, after every exercise we do another assessment,” he explained, where they look at where they get complaints and how they can mitigate those complaints going forward.

The training, Northern Lightning, includes nearly 1,000 personnel and more than 50 aircraft from active duty Air Force, National Guard, Navy and Marine Corps units, according to the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs.

The exercise is a tactical level, joint training exercise that replicates air battle space and uses F-35, F-22, F-16, EA-18 and C-130 aircraft.