News

Vermont Air Guard’s F-35s nearly combat ready

Noise monitoring expands into Williston

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The F-35 fighter jet program at the Vermont Air National Guard reaches full maturity next month. The program will complete its two-year conversion in December from startup to fully operational and will enter the new year ready to deploy at the beck and call of the federal government. 

It’s a milestone that will go unheralded at the guard’s Burlington International Airport base but something the pilots and ground crew have been working toward since the first of 20 F-35s arrived in Vermont in the fall of 2019, replacing the guard’s F-16 jets. 

“The government has bought these aircraft and they need them to be ready if they are called upon, so coming out of conversion means that we’ve done our part and we are accessible to the federal government if they need us,” said Col. Daniel Finnegan, a pilot and the program’s second-in-command. “It’s almost like a birthday. We knew it was coming and you just power right through it. We’ll stay focused on keeping our tasks current and making sure we’re ready to deploy.”

Becoming combat ready involved not only flight hours above Vermont and upstate New York, where the F-35s often head on training flights, it also required battle simulations at Air Force and air guard bases around the country. The program’s capstone simulation took place over a three-week period in August at Nellis Air Force base in Las Vegas, where Vermont pilots flew against surface-to-air and air-to-air attacks, Finnegan said. It also gave the pilots and ground crew practice moving the operation to another location. 

“That is probably the most complete exercise you can attend in the lower 48,” Finnegan said. “That was to make sure we have everything we need to deploy, and employ when we get there and then redeploy back to Vermont.”

Moving to fully operational won’t change the training flight schedule out of the airport, Finnegan said, but it will allow the unit to train oversees. He declined to say whether any deployments are planned.

“Our training never stops,” Finnegan said. “Our job is to be ready if the federal government needs us.”

Meanwhile, the airport, working with a Federal Aviation Administration grant, is installing three noise monitors to capture the decibel levels of the F-35s as they climb and descend over Chittenden County. Two are built in Winooski and South Burlington, and a third is expected to go live in Williston in December.
The Williston location — which will entail a solar-powered microphone atop a 15-foot pole — is on town-owned land near the intersection of Route 2 and Industrial Avenue. 

“Aircraft go directly over that location and it’s very close to the end of the runway,” said airport Acting Aviation Director Nic Longo. 

Data from the noise monitors will help residents verify the decibel levels the F-35s emit, providing documentation for future claims to the airport’s noise abatement program. All homes within a 65-decibel sound exposure zone are eligible for the future $5 million annual program. That includes about 100 homes on the west side of Williston. 

When the program launches, grants will be available for homeowners to install sound insulating doors and windows. The program will also include sales assistance, where the airport will pay homeowners the difference between a sale price and fair market value and in some cases buy homes. The airport would install noise insulation to any homes it buys with the intent to resell them, Longo said.

Data from the noise monitors is available at www.btvsound.com. 

“This system will allow community members to have a tool at their disposal to provide noise feedback, which will inform future noise analysis,” Longo said.

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