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Opponents Of F-35 Fighter Jets Sound Off At Winooski City Council Meeting

Vermont Air Guard F-35 does a fly-over before landing at Burlington
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Air Guard F-35 does a fly-over before landing at Burlington

At the Winooski City Council’s latest meeting, city leaders invited members of the Vermont Air National Guard to talk about F-35 operations. A number of opponents attended to ask questions and express their desire for the jets to leave.

The Vermont National Guard is the first Air Guard unit to host a squadron of F-35 fighter jets. In September 2019 the first arrived and there are now 20 flying out of its base at the Burlington International Airport.

But they are loud. And distracting. And many nearby residents want the Guard to stop flying them.

Last week the Winooski City Council invited officers from the air guard to speak during its regular meeting. 158th Fighter Wing Vice Commander Colonel Adam Rice reported on current operational status.

“We received our twentieth and final F-35 in October of 2020. Our training and flying schedule will remain similar to the past year. We normally fly Tuesday to Friday during the week with a morning and afternoon takeoff plus during one weekend per month on drill weekends," said Rice. "As far as noise mitigation we understand that our flying operations affect the community and we continue to mitigate that impact as much as possible. We’ve adjusted takeoffs and landings to lessen noise and even adjusted flight patterns. Later this year we expect the FAA to implement soundproofing measures which will enhance local residents’ quality of life.”

Despite the noise mitigation efforts, the people who attended say the jets are too loud. A week before the meeting, Save Our Skies/Cancel the F-35s activist James Marc Leas had called on opponents to attend.

“Are you aware that this is actual physical pain and injury from the F-35 training in this densely populated area? That you’re actually injuring and hurting civilians. What you’re doing is illegal.”

More than 30 people opposed to the jets attended the meeting, telling the Guard they want the F-35s to leave.

“Hi. My name’s Camille Clark and I am a resident of Winooski. First off thank you for what the Vermont Guard does for us. I have witnessed the F-35’s flying over Landry Park on a beautiful sunny afternoon. So there lies a question: how do you soundproof a playground? The F-35’s are a public health issue or perhaps a public health crisis.”

“My name is Matthew Ennis. John McCain, who was very much for the military, said this was a horrible project the F-35. And there were lots of problems and they’ve been talked about. I believe there’s been five crashes now. I’m worried one of these could go down and that’s not going to be fun. And I feel like we’re being put in danger to have this here.”

Winooski Mayor Kristine Lott had compiled the questions posed during the public comments and when it finished she turned to the National Guard officers for answers Wing Commander Colonel Dan Finnegan answered one of the crowd’s key questions.

“A lot of references are made to it sounds different, sometimes it’s not as bad as others. Even this afternoon I saw the jets kind of bank around the city and come back in causing like two disruptions instead of one. Can you speak to those issues? Why you fly the way you do? Why it is different sometimes?”

Colonel Finnegan responded, “What you’re seeing by a number of aircraft coming at the airfield differently on different days is a function of the noise mitigation measures that we put in place. When someone said hey why can’t we come in at the same way that the airlines do? When we start getting lower and slower that actually increases the noise volume. There’s a number of noise mitigation measures that we’ve put in place but that’s just an example.”

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