Guard Base Under Consideration For F-35s

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(Host) Vermont’s Air National Guard base is one of 10 national sites under consideration by the U.S. Air Force to receive new fighter jets.

These new planes would replace the F-16s currently operated out of the base at Burlington Airport. 

VPR’s Jane Lindholm has more.

(Lindholm) Assistant Adjutant General Steve Cray says being a finalist for the new joint strike fighter F-35 planes is a big honor for the Vermont Air Guard.

(General Cray) "It’s a testament to the men and women of the Vermont Air National Guard that we were selected to do this.  And it’s absolutely a big deal."

General Cray says between 18 and 24 F-35s would be based in Burlington, completely replacing the aging F-16 fleet currently flown out of the base.  Flying schedules would be pretty similar-twice a day and sometimes on weekends.  But community members under the flight path of the F-16s worry that increased noise from the new planes could be a huge nuisance.  General Cray says he appreciates the concern but good data on how loud these new planes will be just doesn’t exist yet.

(Cray) "Because the F-35 is not even operational yet, in fact there’s only 3 of them flying right now, they have done some preliminary noise testing and what we have been telling our neighbors, our community friends is that it is somewhat louder than the F-16, we know that.  How much more is still yet to be quantified."

(Lindholm) General Cray says there are some steps the Air Guard could take to minimize any increase in noise.

(General Cray) "We have the opportunity to do things, just like we do now by flying at different times of the day, flying at higher altitudes, maybe using reduced power settings, things like that to help mitigate any of the concerns our neighbors have."

(Lindholm) The Air Force is taking public comments on the proposed plan through March 1st as part of its environmental impact study.  That process will take several more months and a final decision won’t be made until about a year from now.

Vermont’s F-16s are nearing the end of their lifespan and replacements will be needed for the Air Guard to continue to operate in Vermont.  General Cray says he hopes the F-35s are the Air Guard’s best option.

(General Cray) "There are some other missions out there, I think, that would fit.  But the best mission is-I think for Vermont and for the nation-to keep the people that have trained in that mission, in that mission if you will.  So we’re trained, we have deployed, we’re a very professional unit in the F-16 and I think that translates well, as a unit, to the F-35."

(Lindholm) The Department of Defense is spending some $300 billion developing the F-35.  If Vermont is approved for these planes, it will still be about three years before the planes arrive. 

For VPR news, I’m Jane Lindholm.

(Host) The public comment period for the F-35 proposal is open until March 1st

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