Thursday November 01, 2018
For likely the last time, civilians were allowed into areas of the Vermont Air National Guard Base where the new F-35 fighter jets will arrive in less than a year.
Officials from the Air Guard held a Media Day on Oct. 26, inviting members of the press to the base next to the Burlington International Airport for an update on F-35 construction projects and a behind-the-scenes look at the facilities where the new jets will be housed.
“I want to tell you how excited I am as a military engineer to be a part of this historic time and to be responsible for the unprecedented facilities transformation going on here,” said Col. Adam Rice, 158th Fighter Wing Support Group Commander. “Opportunities to convert a base for a new mission like this do not come around often, so I am grateful to be a part of this Wing.”
Rice said just over $100 million has been invested in the facility upgrades for the F-35 program. Twenty-five Air Guard maintenance personnel have been receiving training at operational F-35 bases around the world. Four VTANG pilots are already flying the F-35 on active duty in other locations, and Rice said they will return to Vermont in March 2019. By May 2019, there will be an initial cadre of five trained VTANG F-35 fighter pilots based here.
The first F-35 jet will arrive at the Air Guard Base in September 2019, Graber said, and when the program is fully up and running, there will be 20 F-35s housed at the VTANG Base.
The base has spent the last four years preparing for the arrival of the new fighter jets, which were designed to replace the F-16 fighter jets the U.S. military has used for the last 32 years. That preparation has included renovating existing base buildings to house an F-35 simulation training module and the high powered computer equipment necessary to run the simulator and four computer simulators. There are also four new briefing and debriefing rooms.
In addition to Rice, Fighter Wing Commander Col. David Smith and F-35 Program Director Lt. Col. Nate Graber were also on hand for the briefing and the facilities tour.
Graber was asked what makes the F-35 so superior to the F-16.
“The main thing is that it brings a level of stealth that we’ve never had before,” he said. “It can hide from radar.”
Graber said when F-16s were flown into a Syrian missile area, it became a very dangerous situation because the jets could not hide from the missile radar.
“With stealth technology, we can operate in those areas,” Graber said, “and that’s why I’m excited about it.”
The officials were also asked if area residents would see an increase in the number and level of jet training runs over what is currently seen and heard in the area with the F-16s.
“We are on a slightly reduced training schedule with the F-16,” Smith said. “So, you will see an uptick in the number of training runs.”
Concern over increased noise levels with the new fighters has been an ongoing issue since the program was announced almost five years ago. Smith referenced the extensive sound testing that has been conducted and the Environmental Impact Statement.
“The flying operations will be very similar to what we have right now,” he said. “We do the best we can to minimize the impact to the community.”
Graber said the new jets will fly training courses over the Saranac Lake/Massena, N.Y. area of the Adirondacks, over parts of New Hampshire and Maine, and over-water exercises off of Nantucket Island. Just as the F-16s do now.
“We don’t plan to extend airspace for the F-35s,” he said.
Outside the Air Guard building, new tarmac has been laid around the original Air Guard Hangars, with renovated maintenance and support facilities being upgraded as well.
“We’re really excited,” said Base Civil Engineer Jason Villemaire. “This has been a long time coming and is a great component for the base.
SOURCE: Lee Kahrs, The Other Paper