Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin arrived at Eglin Air Force Base on Wednesday to check out the new F-35 in action.
“It’s an amazing plane,” he said from the flight line after seeing the Air Force’s variant of the new fighter jet take off, do several flybys and then land. “It’s a real privilege to be able to see it.”
Shumlin, several staff members and two local mayors made the trip to Eglin to see how the noise level of the F-35 compares to the F-16, which is currently housed at their National Air Guard Base in Burlington, Vt.
The base is a top contender for an operational F-35 fleet sometime in the next few years.
Many Vermont residents have raised concerns about the F-35 creating more noise at the base, which is located near the largest residential area in the state.
Shumlin’s entourage brought instruments to measure the sound of the planes. They stood next to an idling F-35 and an idling F-16 and then went to the flight line to see and hear both jets take off.
Shumlin’s conclusion: the F-35 would be quieter than their F-16s.
“Listening to this has been a real eye opener,” he said. “It’s a different sound, but it’s surprising how quiet the F-35 is.”
He said the F-35 would not have to use noisy afterburners like the F-16 does and that would result in less noise.
“I feel very strongly the F-35s make sense for Vermont, but I also have an obligation to listen to critics,” he said.
He said he wanted to come to Eglin and hear the F-35 in person so he could report back to residents. He believes the plane could be flown, with certain restrictions, without affecting residents’ quality of life.
He said the F-35 would create a large number of jobs for their state.
He and Vermont National Air Guard Brig. Gen. Steve Cray said the F-35 would help the guard stay relevant as the F-16 is phased out.
When the Air Force first proposed bringing the F-35 to Eglin, some residents expressed similar concerns about noise, especially in the Valparaiso area.
Valparaiso Mayor Bruce Arnold said Wednesday that residents haven’t been able to completely assess the noise impacts of the F-35 because the full fleet hasn’t yet arrived at Eglin.
He said at least so far, the effects have been mild.
“There’s been a lot of noise here, but it’s not that disagreeable and it doesn’t continue all day long because there are a limited number of flights,” he said.
But, he said, residents are still concerned about possible impact in the future as more planes arrive.
Col. Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, said noise complaints seemed to be waning as the community has again grown accustomed to having fighter jets fly overhead. He said Eglin reported 40 noise complaints during the last three months and only 10 involved F-35s.
Toth was pleased to have the governor visit.
The 33rd Fighter Wing hosts the country’s first training school for all branches of the military to learn to fly the F-35. Tours of the facility are common, but Toth said he believes Shumlin is the first out-of-state governor to visit.
“I hope more governors will come here and see this first-hand,” Shumlin said.