Chicken vs. Jets

“Auntie Blinn and her white Wyandotts.” From the archives of the Bedford Historical Society

From the Lowell Sun, June 19, 1956:

“Which comes first, the chicken or the jet? News out of Bedford indicates that the Air Force is becoming disturbed over the high mortality among chickens which drop dead from fright when jets take off from Hanscom airfield.”

Chicken farming has a long history in Bedford. In addition to chicken farmers selling chicks and eggs, many residents kept chickens in Bedford backyards. There are many photos of chickens in the Bedford Society archives, including the one you see above from the Blinn family. Although we don’t have much evidence in our archives to prove that chickens were dying of fright, the Hanscom Air Force base website does state that “the airfield’s runways were reconfigured and expanded in 1953.” Perhaps this new configuration resulted in increased noise that affected nearby farms, leading to this 1956 Lowell Sun editorial article.

If you have any memories of area farms and how they were affected by Hanscom, please share them with us at or with the community on our Facebook page.

Kathleen Fahey, Executive Director

Thank you to volunteer Brian Oulighan for locating this entertaining article. To read the full text of the article, continue reading below:

Full Article from the Lowell Sun, June 19, 1956, page 6.
New Problem. Which comes chicken or the jet? News out of Bedford indicates that the Air Force is becoming disturbed over the high mortality among chickens which drop dead from fright when jets take off from Hanscom air field. No one would suggest that the Air Force transfer its operations elsewhere, but by the same token chicken farming in the Bedford area would appear to be a highly unprofitable venture. And what’s the answer for the poor chicken farmer who was operating in the area long before the jets arrived, back in the days when Hanscom was a dream in the heart of draftsmen? Does he crate up his chickens and move out or does he shift the base of his operations to something less chicken-hearted. Something like cows, say. The Air Force brass is attempting to offset its chicken scourge by sending teams of pilots around to soft talk chicken farmers and unhappy householders, but it would appear that there is little common ground for talk between the groups. The Air Force itself admits there is no solution to the problem in sight, so what will the pilots have to offer by way of peace token. If anything, the noise will increase as new jets come into the field, and the carnage in the barnyard will get worse. The situation appears to be impossible of a workable solution. The Air Force can’t reduce the noise; the farmers can’t revive their chickens. It would seem to be, in a manner of speaking, a dead end. In Bedford, at least, the chicken is by way of becoming as extinct as a fellow fowl, the dodo bird. The whole thing points up once again the manner in which the way of the world is changing in the jet age. Almost nothing is as terrifying to hear as the burst of a jet taking off; and almost nothing is more seemingly peaceful and calm than chicken farming. But this is the age of breaking the sound barrier, and rockets to the moon. And the civilization we knew as recently as 1940 has advanced to the point habits of that time have changed drastically. The world is continually evolving and, it appears, into an age of greater speed, greater motion, greater activity. The basic values, the ethics and morals are unchangeable, but the civilization in which they operate has been altered. One could get quite philosophic over the ramifications the Bedford chicken situation under- scores, because it is only one of hundreds of similar problems, minor and major, which the air age has speeded. We heartily sympathize with the problem the Air Force faces in its public relations with the town of Bedford; and we are deeply sympathetic to the plight of the chicken farmer. But it appears to be one of those things that will have to adjust itself, given a lift by time. And for the chickens, let us hope they will one day roost in peace.