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F-35A fighters such as these may be in use by the Vermont Air National Guard by 2015
F-35A fighters such as these may be in use by the Vermont Air National Guard by 2015

VT Guard plans F-35 training over Adirondacks, Watertown

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The Vermont Air National Guard is proposing to start training flights over the Adirondacks and Watertown area with F-35 jets.

The big, loud planes would replace the smaller, quieter F-16s the National Guard is using now --but not until at least 2015. The Guard is accepting public comments on the plan until June 1. It's held public hearings on the proposal in the Burlington area, and last night in Watertown. Joanna Richards reports.

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Their proposed training range will cover a large portion of the North Country. Map and photo: USAF

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

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The Guard has issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement – and it's held public hearings  around the area. The planes would take off and land in Burlington, Vermont. A meeting there drew more than 500 people.

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Caputo is with the 134th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard. He says about 70 or 80 people spoke at that meeting. At a meeting in Watertown last night, he said, “I think it was about 60 folks that voiced positive feedback on the proposed action, and about 25ish – 20, 25 – that opposed or had concerns about the proposed action. And really, the major concern is the noise.”

Only one member of the public showed up to comment on the plan. Robert Blank is a science teacher at Watertown High School – but before that,  he was with the Air Force and Air National Guard for 25 years. He worked as an airspace manager at Fort Drum for 10 years and he helped to develop and oversee the airspace the Vermont Air National Guard uses for training.

Blank said, “And we took into account all kinds of different environmental concerns – nesting areas, hiking and camping areas – and a lot of different factors in designing the airspace, and I thought, you know, this would be a good opportunity to come and state that for the record, because I believe the airspace is fully capable of handling this new mission.”

Under the new proposal, there could be fewer training flights, and they'd be at higher altitudes. But people on the ground would be more likely to hear them.

Bob Van Tassel is a consultant to the company preparing the Environmental Impact Statement – he said noise would increase dramatically with the new planes, “You know, you might have the perception of it being 50 percent – or more than that – noisier.”

The Guard is accepting public comments on the plan until June 1. If it decides to fly the new F-35s from Burlington, they would arrive sometime between 2015 and 2020. That's when training flights would start.

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