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After First Takeoff, Sound of New Fighter Jets Divides Vt. Communities

Friday was the first time most Vermonters ever heard an F-35 fighter jet

For the first time, people in the Champlain Valley had the chance Friday to hear the take-off noise from high-tech fighter jets that will soon be based in the Burlington area.

After experiencing the flight noise from the F-35s—which had been talked about for the better part of a decade—people on all sides of the debate over the contentious jets are now weighing in.

“It didn’t seem to be too bad,” Kathy Grziner of South Burlington said after the jets roared overhead Friday.

“It was noisy–really noisy,” Loretta Marriott of South Burlington bemoaned. “I plugged my ears.”

The Vermont Air Guard will house some of the military’s new supersonic stealth fighters at its base in South Burlington, starting this fall.

A U.S. government study acknowledged the F-35s are louder than the F-16s they’re replacing at the Air Guard base, but even after a decade of debates, the host communities had never heard an F-35 for themselves.

That changed this week, when four F-35s based in Utah made an unexpected pit stop in Vermont because of weather issues and refueling needs.

At takeoff, which is when the new jets are noisiest, some in the flight path complained of odd physical sensations.

“I could actually feel my body reverberating,” Jonathan Wilfong of Winooski told necn affiliate NBC 5 News. “And it felt painful to listen to.”

“I go to concerts and sometimes stand,” added Andrea Olson, who also lives in Winooski. “You feel the bass in your body. This was 100 times that.”

Supporters, however, were feeling nothing but pride.

“That was so amazing,” beamed Nicole Citro of Essex, a longtime supporter of the decision to base the F-35s in Vermont. “After seven years of being involved in the F-35 situation, they seemed almost like mythical creatures to me, so to actually be able to see them live and feel that and hear that—oh my god—that was amazing.”

The Air Guard promised it’ll work to be a good neighbor when the F-35s land here permanently this fall.

“What I tell the community, and what I’ve told the community, is we continue to look at our operations,” Col. David Smith, the commander of the 158th Fighter Wing said in response to a question from necn. “Our airmen and our families—we live in the community. We’re a part of the fabric of the community, so it matters to us, too. It really does. We continue to look at our flying operations, and how we fly the airplane in and out of Burlington to minimize the impact.”

Smith said the jets took off under standard military power, noting there is another mode using afterburners.

That mode, people familiar with military operations have said, would likely be used only sparingly–really only in security emergencies—because it is considerably louder than standard power.

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