First Vermont-based F-35s land at Burlington airport

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BURLINGTON INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (WCAX) Vermont's first F-35 fighter jets touched down Thursday at the Burlington International Airport.

The Vermont Air National Guard is the first Guard unit in the country to receive the next-generation fighters.

We have team coverage of the arrival of the F-35s and reaction from Vermonters like you.

Our Darren Perron was at the Vermont Air National Guard base, home of the 158th Fight Wing, when the jets arrived and has followed the effort to bring them here.

He said it was quite a sight. Before touching down, the pilots buzzed the airport-- at one point just about 100 feet off the ground. And when they flew overhead, the crowd erupted. They have been waiting for more than a decade for this moment.

A sea of supporters in camouflage waited to witness history-- the arrival of two F-35 fighter jets.

"How about it 158th Fighter Wing? Welcome home to the F-35 Lightning 2," Adj. Gen. Greg Knight said.

Before touching down, pilots delighted the crowd on the air base with a mini-air show. It took the Vermont Air Guard pilots about three-and-a-half hours to get from Texas, where the planes were built, to their new home base.

But this is the tail end of a 13-year journey.

"Bringing the F-35 to Vermont secures our future for decades. And our country needs this airplane," Col. David Smith said.

The Vermont Guard began to lobby for the newest and most sophisticated fighter jet in the mid-2000s. It worried its aging fleet of F-16s could jeopardize the base. The Guard flew the F-16s for 33 years.

The new F-35s offered something never built before, stealth technology making them virtually invisible to enemy radar, supersonic speed and top-secret technology.

It's the most expensive weapons program in history. Each F-35 jet alone cost more than $89 million.

In 2013, Vermont got word it won, becoming the first Guard unit in the country to get them.

"When you consider significant milestones in our storied history, this one certainly rises to the top," Smith said.

Pilots have gone through extensive training in F-35 simulators and have flown dozens of times in other F-35s. But this is the first time they touched down here.

"It definitely had the new car smell, but it flew, it actually flew very well," Lt. Col. Tony Marek said.

Opponents argue the planes are too dangerous and too loud, especially when using afterburners. But the Guard maintains it will only use afterburners 5 percent of the time. And pilots promised it again.

"Well, I would be worried about that but it's not a concern because we are definitely going to stick with 95 percent military-power takeoffs," Lt. Col. Nate Graber said.

TIMELINE OF JETS' ARRIVAL IN VERMONT

It only took a few hours for the jets to fly from Texas to Vermont Thursday but it took more than a decade to bring the F-35s to Vermont. Our Celine McArthur has a look at the timeline.

The F-35-A came off the assembly line in 2006 and took flight that December.

In 2009, Burlington found out it was a finalist to base these F-35s.

Three years later, in 2012, Burlington and Winooski Mayors Miro Weinberger and Mike O'Brien, along with then-Governor Peter Shumlin, visited Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to see F-35s in action and hear what they sounded like.

In December 2013, the decision was made to bring them to Vermont, despite protests from people who didn't want the jets here.

Fast forward to earlier this year when the Burlington and South Burlington City Councils passed resolutions welcoming the fighter jets.

And, of course, Thursday afternoon shortly after 1:30 p.m., the first two arrived in Burlington.

COMMUNITY REACTS TO ARRIVAL OF F-35S

As we mentioned, the F-35s have faced some resistance along the way. Some of that was from people ideologically opposed to basing fighter jets here in Vermont. Another major concern-- the sound on takeoff.

The projected sound map shows 2,600 homes are in the unsuitable zone when it comes to noise. Federal dollars are available for sound insulation and home buyouts.

Our Dom Amato spoke with people who came out to see the fighter jets Thursday.

There was anticipation and excitement as dozens waited to catch their first glimpse of Vermont's F-35 fighter jets.

"I think it's long overdue," said Susan Lassiter of Underhill.

"This was awesome. Those planes are incredible," said David Landry of Milton.

Supporters of the Vermont Air National Guard's latest mission say they can look past the noise concerns because the planes provide safety and a boost to the economy.

"I have a bumper sticker that says I love the noise, it makes me feel good, it makes me feel proud of those guys," said Alice Chagnon of Burlington.

But inside the Burlington International Airport, opponents of the F-35 gathered at a public meeting.

"We know it's going to start out quiet, they're going to do everything they can to not upset us," said Jean Saysani of Winooski.

They're concerned about the noise impact on communities close by.

"My dog goes nuts when the F-16s used to go over, you know I need new windows in my house," Saysani said.

Some are asking for a new environmental impact study and more information about the jets for schools and families.

"Please work with the Air Guard to post a schedule of F-35 takeoffs and landings," said Charles Simpson of Burlington.

Opponents also believe the F-35s will negatively impact the airport and urge officials to warn passengers of the sound.

"Please keep in mind the visitor experience at the Burlington International Airport will be degraded," Simpson said.

GOVERNOR ON F-35S

The future of combat aviation doesn't come cheap. The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in history.

Despite the $89 million-a-piece price tag, Vermont's governor said Thursday that the value matches the people stationed in Vermont.

"I value the Vermont National Guard, the Green Mountain Boys and all that they offer and bring to Vermont is something that's been essential to our economy as well as the defense of our country," said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.