The first two F-35 fighter jets to be permanently assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard arrived in Burlington today. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley was there.
In 2013 the U.S. Air Force chose the Vermont Air Guard as the first National Guard base to host a squadron of F-35 fighter jets. After years of training, infrastructure upgrades and controversy the first two jets arrived in Burlington early Thursday afternoon.
The two Vermont guard pilots executed several flyovers before landing and taxi-ing to the Air Guard facility adjacent to the Burlington International Airport.
Brigadier General Gregory Knight, adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, praised the men and women of the 158th Fighter Wing who worked to bring the plane to Vermont. “While the arrival of this aircraft is certainly significant it is not what is most important about today. This is about you. It is about what you’ve done for many years and what you and our entire team will continue to do in future decades particularly as our F-35s settles into Vermont. You’re going to write our future. I’m excited for the next chapter of the Green Mountain Boys’ story.”
158th Fighter Wing commander Colonel David Smith reminded the personnel surrounding the planes how hard they worked to successfully bring the F-35 to Vermont. “Now that it’s here I just want to make sure it sinks in for all of us and remind everybody of something. Because it’s official now and if you look behind me there’s two F-35’s on our ramp with Vermont tail flashes on them. You all are the first F-35 wing in the Air National Guard. Let me say it again: the first F-35 wing in the Air National Guard. The very first.”
Lt. Colonel Nate Graber flew one of the two F-35’s from the Lockheed-Martin facility near Fort Worth Texas to Vermont. He described what it’s like to fly the state-of-the-art aircraft. “I find it really easy to fly. The hard part with the plane is tactically employing it so there’s a lot of systems in there that provide the pilot a lot of information and that’s the part that takes the studying and takes the getting used to and the repetitions. But flying the aircraft itself it’s super-easy to land. (Well they say it’s a state-of-the-art aircraft. If we were able to get into the cockpit what would we see?) The defining feature of the cockpit there’s two things. The primary displays in there look like two I-Pads. We say we work it on the glass. There are other switches of course in the cockpit. And then the other part is we don’t have a heads up display. That’s all projected on our helmets now. So all the data we need to fly the airplane, airspeeds, altitudes, where we need to turn, who we’re targeting or what target might be on the ground that’s all there in the helmet. So that’s pretty cool.”
The level of noise the F-35 will produce has garnered local opposition, but Graber says pilots will avoid the use of afterburners. “It’s not a concern because we are definitely going to stick with 95% military powered takeoffs. For here we basically need to stay under 4,000 feet before we break ground and get airborne and then we meet the Air Force regulation for what we need to transition from military to afterburner power.”
Eighteen more F-35’s will arrive at the Vermont Air Guard base over the next 10 months.