In the early evening Wednesday, on an unusually cold Florida night, a trio of Vermont leaders watched on as two generations of fighter planes prepared to take flight.
For Governor Peter Shumlin, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, and Winooski Mayor Mike O'Brien, the trip to the panhandle offered a rare chance to compare Vermont's current crop of F-16's with the F-35's that may replace them.
"After hearing discussion back and forth in Vermont, listening to them is an education," said Governor Shumlin. Mayor Weinberger agreed, "I'm satisfied that the F-35 is a different sound, but it's a comparable sound." As did Mayor O'Brien, "I didn't see a staggering difference."
Gov. Shumlin said it was easy to tell the difference between the two, "It's surprising to me how quiet the F-35 is, the F-16 makes more of screeching sound, the F-35 is a duller roar," he said.
Opponents quote the Air Force's own impact statement, when they contend the new plane is louder than the F-16's currently in use.
However, the F-16s in Burlington use afterburners because of a shorter runway, and proponents like the Governor say that eliminates the difference.
"The F-16 with an afterburner is louder than the F-35 I just heard out here," Shumlin said.
Of the leaders invited on the trip by the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation - a pro-plane Burlington business group - only O'Brien has not lent public support to the F-35.
He says the trip has not caused him to pick a side. "I think it's too early for me to go there I want to go back and share this with the council, really think about it, there are a lot of issues here," O'Brien explained.
The group has been criticized for failing to invite any critics, such as outspoken South Burlington city councilwoman and former Air Force Colonel Rosanne Greco.
Frank Cioffi with the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation told Channel 3 he didn't the trip would change the mind of anyone in South Burlington.
A decision on Burlington and the jet has been expected by the end of this year.
However even if selected, F-35s wouldn't land in Burlington for almost a decade, so the debate is unlikely to end.
The Air Force says restrictions on the new jet -- as it continues to be tested -- prevent a possible demo flight to Burlington.
The plane must stay within 150 miles of its base. Similar guidelines currently prevent use of the plane at night and in the rain.
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