Four U.S. military fighter jets made an unexpected pit stop Wednesday in the Champlain Valley.
The military will soon house some of its F-35s in Vermont—with their next-generation sophisticated electronics and stealth capabilities—to replace a fleet of F-16s.
The four F-35s that landed in South Burlington Wednesday were not assigned to the Vermont Air National Guard. Rather, the unscheduled arrivals were from an Air Force base in Utah.
In a statement, the Vermont Air Guard said the F-35s were on their way to a mission overseas when they had to divert to the base in South Burlington because of weather issues and the need to refuel.
“They fuel in the air,” explained Gene Richards, the aviation director for the Burlington International Airport—which is home to both commercial civilian flights and military operations at the Vermont Air National Guard base. “It’s called air fueling. And they were not able to make their connection with their fueler, so they had to divert to our airport until they are able to make an arrangement for fuel.”
The sight was a thrill for aviation enthusiast Bruce Bailey of Richmond, who checked out the F-35s from the Burlington International Airport.
“I welcome them; I think they’re going to be great,” Bailey told necn.
However, some in the area weren’t so excited by the surprise guests.
“I’ve always been concerned it was way, way too soon to bring this to a neighborhood,” Rosanne Greco of South Burlington said of the F-35.
Greco has long opposed the F-35 and its Vermont basing, voicing concerns about reliability and public safety, and calling the fighters too noisy on takeoff for the area.
“Maybe somebody will come to their senses and realize this is not something for Vermont,” Greco said Wednesday. “I remain optimistic.”
Doug Wood is an airport operations foreman who provided cell phone video of the Utah F-35s landing that necn incorporated into its video report.
“They weren’t as loud as I expected them to be,” Wood said of the visiting F-35s, comparing them in his mind to the F-16s formerly stationed at the Air Guard base. “I didn’t notice any difference, really. [The F-35 is] a little bit higher-pitched.”
Vermont’s own F-35s are expected to arrive sometime this fall.