Governor Peter Shumlin said he was surprised that he didn’t think an F-35 fighter jet was much louder than an F-16. Shumlin and the mayors of Burlington and Winooski were in Florida on Wednesday for a demonstration of the two jets.
The goal of the trip ws to learn firsthand how the sound of an F-35 compares to an F-16 – the jet that the Vermont Air Guard currently houses in South Burlington.
The flight of the F-35, which might replace the F-16 in Vermont, was delayed first by the weather and then by a technical problem with a battery on one of the jets.
The demonstration finally took place as daylight was fading at the base just east of Pensacola. Shumlin said he didn’t think the noise should get in the way of Vermont embracing the jets.
And the political leaders said they thought the $23,000 cost of the trip was worth it.
"Look, there’s a great deal of conflicting information out there," says Weinberger.
Weinberger says hearing the jets firsthand instead of just reading about it in a report is a valuable opportunity to clear up any murky information.
Weinberger supports basing F-35s in South Burlington, pointing to the military jobs that generate more than $50 million in economic activity as the reason. Still, Weinberger says he could change his mind.
"Certainly if new information, additional information comes to light that is in conflict with a position that I originally take, I’m not going to be someone who stands on ceremony and is inflexible," Weinberger says.
The Air Force is expected to announce next year whether it will base F-35s in Vermont. Some residents say they worry that if the answer is yes, the noise will be unbearable.
That is, in part, because an environmental impact statement released by the Air Force shows the F-35 would be noisier over a greater swath of Chittenden County reaching into residential areas of Winooski.
"For me it’s a fact-finding mission. Period," says Winooski Mayor Michael O’Brien, who dismisses any charges that this is a junket.
Although the sound captured at a base in Florida may not match the same level of noise in residential Vermont, O’Brien says he wants to measure the relative difference between the F-16 and the F-35.
South Burlington’s city councilors oppose basing the F-35 at Burlington International but they were not invited on the trip. In a statement, they said all of the communities affected by aircraft noise should be involved in any fact-finding mission.
Governor Shumlin says he has confidence in the delegation that traveled to Florida.
"I think you’ll find there are people going down who are supportive of the F-35. There are those who have been less committal, like the mayor of Winooski is an example," Shumlin says. "I think [the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation has] assembled a good crew to go down and listen to the planes."
Shumlin says this was a very important trip for Vermont, and he looks forward to ensuring that what he’s been told about the F-35s is accurate.