By John Herrick
Opponents of basing the Air Force F-35 fighter jet with the Vermont Air Guard at Burlington International Airport gather at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
BURLINGTON — A former designer of Air Force fighter jets added his voice to the chorus of opposition to basing a next-generation war plane at Burlington International Airport.
Pierre Sprey, a co-designer of the F-16 and the A-10, told hundreds of people at a citizen’s hearing Thursday night that the new F-35 fighter is louder and less safe than the F-16.
The hearing at Burlington’s Unitarian Universalist Church was held on the eve of the issuing of a revised Air Force environmental impact study on the six bases being considered for the new fighter.
The meeting was a response to the congressional delegation’s failure to hold any public information meetings on the issue, said Chris Hurd, spokesperson for Stop The F-35 Coalition.
Pierre Sprey, a co-designer of the F-16 and the A-10 fighter jets, spoke against basing the new Air Force F-35 fighter jet with the Vermont Air Guard at Burlington International Airport. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
Sprey also spoke to several arguments that have been used to support the F-35 project, such as the economic benefits to Burlington’s economy, the potential loss of the Air National Guard if the F-35s cannot base in Burlington and the assumption that opposition to the F-35 project is a proxy for opposing national defense altogether.
He began by stating that the F-35 jet is not suitable for the many contemporary military tasks and is not safe.
Sprey said accident rates are high for new fighter jets. He said that the fleet flying the F-16 is mature, with 10 million to 12 million flying hours of experience.
Assuming that the F-35 and the F-16 are equally safe planes, when the fleet comes to Burlington after the year 2020 or later, it will have approximately 25,000 flying hours of training.
When the F-16 had 25,000 flying hours of training, it had an accident rate of 50 accidents per 100,000 flying hours, approximately 20 times the accident rate of the F-16 flying in Burlington today, he said.
Other speakers said military personnel and veterans will partly pay for the unprecedented cost of the F-35 fighter jet’s manufacturing and that immigrant communities seeking affordable housing will have fewer options in residential neighborhoods located near the site.
Rosanne Greco, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, said the manufacturing of the F-35 fighter jets will be paid for through cuts to service benefits for military personnel and veterans.
“A few categories of people will pay way more than their fair share,” Greco said. “The Pentagon intends to pay for the F-35 by cutting military personnel and by cutting military personnel benefits, including health care and benefits for military families.”
She said that cutting benefits has paid for other military projects in the past.
“This is nothing new. The military has been paying for weapons systems by cutting people programs for decades,” Greco said. “Hardware first, people second.”
She said that there might be cuts to job training programs, potentially affecting more than 800,000 unemployed veterans, a 300 percent increase in health care premiums for veterans, and cutting housing programs for homeless veterans, potentially affecting 100,000 people.
Loss of community
Rabbi Joshua Chasan of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue said the potential noise resulting from the new base will harm neighborhoods sought by Burlington’s immigrant community.
“As a community, we have taken great delight in welcoming to our area thousands of refugees who have fled torture and murder in their homelands. They have found homes in peaceful, if modest, neighborhoods of our small cities,” Chasan said.
He added that the project will affect Burlington’s reputation as a hospitable sanctuary city for asylum seekers and refugees.
“Where is our hospitality now – to bring in yet to be properly tested jets to fly over our new neighbors, raining upon them the roar of powerful engines of war as if refugees below were homesick for the fearsome sound of these instruments of war,” Chasan said.
He said that formerly thriving neighborhoods were largely abandoned when the noise of the F-16 surrounded nearby residential areas. Chasan added that opposing the project will reinforce the state’s value of fairness.
“In defending the well-being of the most vulnerable among us, we defend the very essence of democracy in Vermont,” he said. “Like a tree planted by the water, our roots are grounded in the rich soil of Vermont fairness.”
Some residents asked questions about the project’s impact on nearby neighborhoods.
Janice Brousseau, who moved to Richard Street in Winooski in 1950, said she is concerned that the project will reduce the value of her home.
Brousseau said she is going to begin restoring her home so that she will have the option to sell if the project comes to Burlington.
“I’m going to try to get it done so that I can sell before they come in,” she said. “I will move out before three years.”
Greco said property values had decreased in other areas affected by a similar increase in noise pollution, according to studies cited in the draft of the Air Force’s environmental impact statement.
Greco added that the Federal Aviation Administration will not provide further assistance to cover declines in property values.
“The federal government will not buy you out. The FAA had a certain amount of money that the city of Burlington and the airport put in to buy out those 200 houses in South Burlington. They have come back and said that there is no more money,” she said.
Greco added that residents in affected neighborhoods will have little control over their property value if the project comes to Burlington.
“There is also no way to mitigate the noise,” she said. “So you’re stuck.”
Sprey also said that, instead of creating maintenance jobs in Burlington, the plane will be serviced outside the state because the F-35 was intentionally designed to minimize on-base maintenance, Sprey said.
“If you have an equal number of planes, you will have a few less positions based here in Burlington doing maintenance on the F-35,” he said.
Sprey added that Air National Guard will not leave Burlington if residents oppose the F-35 basing project.
“Whether you have the Air National Guard unit at the Burlington Airport or not has only to do with horse trading among senators and congressmen. It has nothing to do with what airplane is here,” he said.
Lastly, Sprey said that national defense will be handicapped by a plane poorly designed for contemporary combat.
“When people tell you that you’re opposing defending America if you’re against the F-35, I suggest you laugh in their face,” he said. “The quicker it gets canceled, the better off the defense of the nation is.”
Hurd said that during the 45-day public review period of the final environmental impact statement, there will be additional public hearings on the project.
The final draft of the environmental impact statement will be release late in September before a 30-day waiting prior preceding the record of decision.