After more than a decade of planning, debate and vocal opposition, two F-35 fighter jets arrived in Vermont on Thursday.
The historic arrival of the jets was met with applause and excitement as guardsmen of the 158th Fighter Wing looked on at Burlington International Airport.
“It’s hard to believe that it’s actually here,” said Col. David Smith, the wing’s commander. “To see two F-35s with Vermont tails, it’s something we’re really proud of.
The fifth-generation fighter jets touched down in Burlington just after 1:30 pm following a three-hour flight from Fort Worth, Texas. Before hitting the runway, the jets flew in formation for a few minutes, giving spectators a good look at them in the sky.
Lt. Col. Nate Graber was one of the pilots in the cockpit Thursday. He said the jets were refueled in the sky by an air tanker from Indiana.
“Once the canopy comes down, it’s like any fighter jet,” Graber said. “You get right down in the mission. You have to close out the rest of the world and make sure everything’s starting up correctly.”
The jets are touted as the most advanced combat aircraft in the world, known for their stealth capabilities. The rest of the fleet will arrive in Burlington over the next 10 months. By June, the guard will have 20 F-35s, 18 for combat and 2 backup planes.
“During that period, we are going to transform this wing into the most highly performing, proud, and capable F-35 wing in the Air Force, there’s no question about it,” Col. Smith said.
Now that the planes have arrived, the primary focus will be on training the rest of the wing, from the maintenance squadron to operations and logistics.
In an effort to address community concerns over noise, the guard said pilots will limit the power they use at takeoff.
“It’s not that it’s untrue other bases are using more afterburner,” said Graber. “They definitely are, but we’re just not going to do that here.”