The U.S. Air Force is in the process of deciding where it will base a new jet, the F-35. Burlington International Airport, which is the host airfield for the Vermont Air National Guard, is on the short list and a preferred site for hosting the state-of-the-art plane. But the idea is controversial, with split votes in surrounding communities over support for the aircraft.
Thursday morning, Vermont National Guard officials met with the media to discuss issues relating to the F-35.
The intent of the meeting was to discuss the overall process to bring the F-35 to the Burlington airport and its impact on the community from the Guard’s perspective. Vermont National Guard Assistant Adjutant General for Air Brigadier General Dick Harris began with a general view of the core mission of the Guard and its nearly 4,000 Army and Air Guard staff. The briefing quickly moved to the U.S. Air Force proposed beddown of 18 to 24 state-of-the-art F35 fighter jets at the Burlington International Airport, the host flightline for the Guard.
Noise has become one of the most controversial issues surrounding the potential siting of the fighter jet. Air Guard fighter squadron commander Lt. Colonel Dan Finnegan provided a presentation on noise metrics, using numerous charts to compare the F-35's Day-Night Average Sound levels, or DNL, with previous jets the guard has flown.
The DNL is an average noise level measured over 24 hours, accounting for all sounds generated. Measured at all airports, the 65dB DNL is a considered the level at which 12.5 percent of the population becomes highly annoyed.
Guard officials said noise mitigation procedures implemented with the current F-16s will work for the F-35. They expect the aircraft without afterburners to be quieter, because it is a stealth aircraft.
Opponents have raised questions within the past week about the health impact of F-35 noise. The environmental impact study says no studies prove that noise under 75dB have effects. Colonel Harris says in the wake of the concerns, he read the World Health Organization report cited by opponents and followed up by talking to acoustic researchers.
On Monday night, South Burlington officials voted to support the F-35. Wednesday, the city council in neighboring Winooski decided to oppose basing the F-35 at the airport. General Dick Harris says he doesn’t know whether the votes will impact the eventual decision. But without the F-35, there would be no mission and uncertainty over the size of the guard base.
The target date for publication of the final environmental impact study is October. There is a minimum 30-day waiting period following that before the Air Force can issue its final decision for siting the aircraft.