The first two of 20 F-35 fighter jets slated to be based in Vermont are expected to arrive at Burlington International Airport on Thursday.
The F-35 jets will be piloted to Burlington from Fort Worth, Texas by members of the Vermont Air National Guard. Col. David Smith, commander of the 158th Fighter Wing, said the planes are expected to arrive mid-day Thursday, though the exact timing is not yet certain.
“It’s like anything in aviation, you never know until the day of if things can change,” Smith said.
All 20 planes are expected to be in Vermont by June of 2020, Smith said. The brand-new F-35s replace F-16 jets, which flew out of the guard’s Burlington base for 33 years. Smith said he expects the Air Guard to fly the F-35 out of Vermont for a similar length of time.
“The guard has gotten new airplanes before in its history, but a new kind of mission like this, and fielding the F-35 in the Air National Guard concurrently and proportionately with the Air Force, it’s a really significant milestone, and it’s taken a lot of time, decades, to get to this point,” Smith said.
The siting of the jets in the Burlington area has sparked vocal opposition for years, including protests in the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy earlier this month. Opponents cite noise and safety concerns.
In 2018, the Burlington City Council requested the U.S. Air Force cancel the F-35 basing and send a quieter plane instead. That move followed the passage of a ballot measure, supported by 55 percent of Burlington voters.
Earlier this year, a report showed the number of residents exposed to noise will increase significantly in the coming years. And residents got a preview of the noise level of F-35s in late May, when four of the planes made an unplanned stop in Burlington on their way overseas. Some residents in Winooski said the noise of the planes was significantly louder than that of the F-16s. Others said they noticed little difference.
In response to residents’ concerns, Col. Smith with the 158th Fighter Wing said he respects citizens’ right to be heard.
“We understand we have an impact, our operations have an impact," Smith said. "We take it really seriously. We will continue to, like we’ve done in the past, with different airplanes and over our history, just continue to try and minimize and mitigate our impact to the community.”
Officials with Burlington International Airport have said they intend to seek federal funds to mitigate noise impacts from the new planes, though that money may not flow to Vermont until 2021.
Correction 7:21 p.m. A previous version of this post pictured an F-35B jet. It is the F-35A that is coming to Vermont.