Vermont's First F-35 Fighter Planes Are Here
Two F-35 fighter planes landed in Vermont today. They're the first of 20 F-35 planes expected to be based with the Vermont Air National Guard in South Burlington.
Service members, their families and a sizeable media presence crowded onto the guard's sunny tarmac Thursday afternoon.
Everyone waited for the long expected arrival — the U.S. Air Force's decision to base F-35s here was officially announced back in 2013. The guard has since been preparing for them, but there's also a vocal group of residents who are opposed to the F-35s being based here.
No protestors stood outside the Vermont Air National Guard's 158th Fighter Wing before or after the event on Thursday.
The major concern around the F-35s, however, is the noise they make.
More from VPR — New Report Shows Increased Noise Impact With Arrival Of F-35s At Burlington Airport [May 30]
Attendees did receive ear protection prior to the planes' arrival, and Colonel David Smith, commander of the 158th Fighter Wing, said the guard will monitor and make adjustments to minimize the jets' impact.
"We've moved traffic patterns, we look hard at our take-off times, we try and fly earlier in the day so it's not late at night, all those things," Smith said. "Because at the end of the day, we're community members. We live in every town around the airport as well, so it's important to us."
When the F-35s did, once and for all, fly over the airfield just after 1:15 p.m. on Thursday, they were welcomed with cheers from service members. The planes did several loops around the base before landing, one after the other, on the tarmac.
The rest of the jets will gradually arrive over the next several months, and all 20 should be in Vermont by June 2020, Smith said.
The two jets that arrived Thursday aren't expected to take off again until October. As more jets show up, the guard expects the number of flights to increase.
Lt. Col. Nate "Wiz" Graber, who flew one of new jets, said the F-35s will begin flying more regularly next year.
“Probably right back into four days a week in January, probably four jets in the morning, two jets in the afternoon,” he told a crowd of reporters. “Then, we'll reach our sustained peak next summer — which will again, be four days a week, eight jets in the morning and six in the afternoon.”
The Vermont Air National Guard is the first air guard unit in the country to have F-35s. In a statement, Gov. Phil Scott praised the arrival of the jets:
“For decades, our Air Guard has served Vermont and our nation with distinction, and it’s because of this leadership that Vermont is the first National Guard unit to adopt this next generation technology. The Air Guard and the F-35 are an essential part of enhancing the quality of life, vibrancy and vitality of the region and state. We can be proud Vermont will continue to play such a significant role in the defense of our nation.”
For Smith, the wing commander, Thursday's arrival was a long-time coming.
"To actually have the first two airplanes — with Vermont on the tail —land here is amazing," he said. "We're really excited to get going on the airplane."