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First F-35 fighter jets arrive in Madison after years of planning and some local opposition

New fighter jets will replace F-16s at Truax Field Air National Guard Base

F-16, below, escorting two F-35 jets, above.
F-16, below, escorting two F-35 jets, above, after arriving the latter arrived at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.  Rick Bowmer/AP Photo

After years of planning amid local opposition, the first in a new generation of fighter jets has landed at a Madison Air National Guard base.

Four F-35 fighter jets touched down Tuesday at Truax Field. Eventually, a total of 20 of those aircraft will arrive at the air field in the next year, where they’ll replace F-16 jets, said Wisconsin Air National Guard spokesperson Keith Peter.

Madison’s 115th Fighter Wing is the second Air National Guard unit in the country to receive F-35s. The single-seat aircraft first landed at Air National Guard base in South Burlington, Vermont in 2019.

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In a ceremony Tuesday afternoon, 115th Fighter Wing Commander Colonel Bart Van Roo heralded the arrival of F-35s in Wisconsin, describing the aircraft as better equipped to protect national security.

“Our focus does turn to ensuring that this wing is ready with these new aircraft to respond at a moment’s notice to anything we were tasked to do,” he said in a video of the ceremony shared to Facebook. “Unfortunately, with increasing uncertainty around this world, mission capability is essential to the U.S. to be prepared to meet these challenges.”

The arrival of F-35s has been championed by the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, and by both of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators, Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson.

But, the plans have been met by protests in Wisconsin’s capital city and, in April 2020, Madison’s Common Council passed a non-binding resolution asking the U.S. secretary of the Air Force to pick a location other than Truax Field because of concerns about environmental damage, noise pollution and lowered property values.

An Environmental Impact Statement submitted to the federal government for the project estimated the F-35s would be about 5 decibels louder than the F-16s already in Madison at peak loudness. A 3-decibel difference is generally considered to be the smallest change in sound levels that most humans can hear.

It also estimates that 1,318 households, amounting to 2,766 residents, would be exposed to average noise levels of at least 65 decibels, making those homes near the airfield “potentially incompatible for residential land use.”

“Quality of life here in Madison is going to really deteriorate, particularly for people in the north and east sides of town,” Tom Boswell, an organizer with Safe Skies Clear Water, said of the noise.

Safe Skies Clean Water is suing in federal court in attempt to block the F-35s.

Peter, the Air National Guard, spokesperson acknowledged the F-35s are “a little bit louder” than F16s. But he also said the more powerful F-35s will use less afterburner — a noisy component used to give jet engines more thrust.

The Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs will use a $798,000 U.S. Department of Defense grant for community outreach and noise mitigation planning amid the arrival of F-35s at Truax Field.

“We’re going to have a large study done on it to make sure that we’re working with the community to lower the noise levels if they are greater than the … F-16s did push out,” he said.