Saturday, May 03, 2014

Air Guard commander: F-35s will be quieter than F-16s

SOUTH BURLINGTON – The Vermont Air National Guard has asked the Air Force to send an F-35 up for a visit to Burlington International Airport so Vermonters and Guard officials can learn firsthand what a landing and takeoff by the new fighter jet sounds like.

"I'm trying to get an F-35 here as soon as possible," Col. Thomas W. Jackman, commander of the Air Guard's 158th Fighter Wing, said during a news conference Friday at the Air Guard's airport headquarters.

Jackman said he made the request earlier this year, seeking a waiver of an Air Force policy that forbids having the plane interact with a combat command base while it is still going through a testing and training phase at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

Jackman said the Air Guard will notify the public in advance of any F-35 visit to the airport, but warned it won't happen anytime soon. "Waivers don't happen fast in the military, " he said.

The Air Force last year designated the Vermont Air Guard as the preferred Guard location for the initial basing of 18 F-35s, beginning in 2020. The planes will replace the Air Guard's aging fleet of F-16s.

Opponents of the F-35s have argued the noise the jets generate will hurt real estate values and cause health problems. They have also contended the newness of the F-35s increases the chances of a crash and poses a risk to the community.

Jackman, announcing an update of the Air Guard plan to mitigate noise and other concerns raised in the decision to award the planes to Vermont, said he is confident the F-35 will ultimately be quieter than the F-16s they are replacing.

"I truly believe we may be able to reduce the noise footprint for the F-35 as compared to the F-16," Jackman said.

The reason for that optimism, he said, is that the F-35 will rarely use its afterburners during takeoff. The F-16s at the airport use afterburners 95 percent of the time.

Jackman also said the sound of an F-35 while taxiing on the runway is less intrusive than the F-16.

"The F-16 is more screechy," he said. "The F-35 has a throaty kind of sound. It's like a Ferrari compared to a GTO."

James Leas, a vocal opponent of basing the F-35s in Burlington, said in a statement Friday he was disappointed with the Air Guard's update of its mitigation plan. Leas said the Air Force's own data shows the F-35 is louder than the F-16.

"If it was not a pretend plan, the mitigation plan would include actions to mitigate that much-higher noise level," Leas said in his statement. "But it does not. Not a word."