Leas: Air Force official admits Burlington got top score for F-35 based on flawed data

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by James Marc Leas, an attorney in Burlington.

A Pentagon-based Air Force official made admissions that negate high level efforts to bring the F-35 to Burlington. In an interview published in the Burlington Free Press on July 13, 2012, Colonel Frank Freeman, a Pentagon-based director of plans and programs in the Air Force, admitted that Burlington got top points in the scoring based on information about housing in the crash and noise zones that differs from the facts.

The statements by Air Force Colonel Freeman are entirely consistent with the information provided by Air Force Colonel Rosanne Greco (ret.) and a “‘highly placed source’ in the Air Force,” as reported in an article in the Free Press on June 26. The Free Press now reports that indeed scoring sheets were used “to rate more than 200 Air Force and Air Guard installations on their suitability as a basing station.” The latest article states that the scoring sheets “gave Burlington top points on the environmental section, indicating that no buildings were present in the [crash zone] area at the end of the runways or within the 65 decibel area close to the airport.”

The latest article confirms what Col. Greco was quoted saying in the earlier article, “‘mistakes were made, grave mistakes’ in the Air Force’s scoring that led to the designation of the Vermont Air National Guard base at Burlington International Airport as a ‘preferred alternative’ for hosting new fighter jets, the F-35A.”

According to the Air Force draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), 2944 homes, 6675 people, 5 schools, 6 churches, and many businesses–including every inch of downtown Winooski–are in the crash zone area at the end of runways or within the F-35’s “65 decibel DNL” noise contour.

According to the EIS, Day-Night Average Sound Level, or “DNL,” is an average of the noise over 24 hours computed over a year. The Air Force EIS says, “areas exposed to DNL above 65 dB are generally not considered suitable for residential use.” In view of no military aircraft flying at night and during most of the day, to produce such an unacceptable average noise level, a reader will appreciate that the maximum sound level of F-16 and F-35 aircraft flying over a home for just a few minutes each day must be much, much louder than 65 decibels.

The Air Force EIS says that the maximum sound level of the F16 flying at 1000 feet is 94 decibels and for the F-35 the maximum sound level is 115 decibels. Since the EIS states that each ten decibels is heard as a doubling of the loudness, the 21 decibel difference is more than two doublings of the loudness, and, therefore, the F-35 is more than four times louder than the F-16.

The Air Force EIS reports that “the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Hearing, Bioacoustics, and Biomechanics identified 75 dB as the minimum level at which hearing loss may occur.” The Air Force draft EIS also indicates that with its 115 decibel sound level, the F-35 at 1000 feet is 32 times louder than a vacuum cleaner at 10 feet and that the F-35 is in the noise range between an oxygen torch and a night club. According to the Air Force EIS, “at approximately 120 dB, sound can be intense enough to induce pain, while at 130 dB, immediate and permanent hearing damage can result.”

The Air Force EIS also reports that “for the purposes of determining eligibility for noise insulation funding, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines state that the design objective for a classroom environment is 45 dB Leq resulting from aircraft operations during normal school hours (FAA 1985)” (p. C-21) This section of the EIS also reports a study “based on students with normal hearing and no special needs.” The report found “that if an aircraft noise event’s indoor Lmax (maximum sound level) reached the speech level of 50 dB, 90 percent of the words would be understood by students seated throughout the classroom.” The authors “adopted an indoor Lmax of 50 dB as the maximum single event level permissible in classrooms.”

The Air Force EIS revealed–for the first time–that even with just the current F-16 fighter, 1578 households and 3812 people were already within the average 65 decibel DNL zone.

The Air Force EIS also revealed for the first time that with the current F-16 fighter, two schools and two places of worship were already within the average 65 decibel DNL zone. It reports that with 24 F-35 bombers based in Burlington, five schools and six places of worship will be within that average 65 decibel DNL zone.

According to the latest Free Press article, Col. Frank Freeman, the Pentagon-based director of plans and programs in the Air Force, said the National Guard was the source of the information about the Burlington International Airport used in the score sheet: “Freeman said the Air Force’s Air Combat Command office ‘worked with installations to gather data’ for the score sheets. In Burlington’s case, he said, data came from the National Guard headquarters in Washington.”

The National Guard is the organization that has F-16s flying directly over those houses, schools, churches, and businesses and could not have missed seeing them. The National Guard is the organization Vermont needs to be able to trust to defend Vermont and our citizens, families, schools, children, homes, places of worship, businesses, communities, and towns. The National Guard is the organization Vermont expects will sacrifice for Vermonters and not vice versa.

The high score given to Burlington was followed by a visit to Burlington by a site survey team. But the site visit did not result in a correction: Colonel “Freeman described the score sheets as part of the initial ‘screening’ of the 200 bases. Burlington was chosen as a top candidate for the F-35A basing, he said, following the second phase of examination, when site survey teams visited and ‘had boots on the ground.’”

The Air Force and National Guard had other evidence, too. According to the Free Press article, Burlington was selected as a top candidate despite the fact that the Airport had “a map showing approximately 60 residences the Federal Aviation Administration has determined eligible for a federal buyout program due to the noise level.”

If a program was in place to buy houses, how could the Air Force and National Guard not know houses were already in the noise zone for the F-16? Especially since they knew that the F-35 was much louder.

If the Air Force had information from the National Guard, had boots on the ground, had aircraft flying directly over, and if the airport had a program to buy houses in the noise zone, how did the Air Force miss seeing the thousands of houses, schools, churches, and businesses it identified in its own EIS? How did they miss seeing all of downtown Winooski in the crash and noise zones and so much of South Burlington, Burlington, Williston, and Colchester?

In an article published in VTDigger on July 11, Air Force Colonel Rosanne Greco (ret.) presented a series of flaws in the Air Force process, among them this gem:

However, the questions asked in the environmental category were not related to the F-35A. They were related to the existing F-16. The questions were not whether there would be homes and other structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-35A; but whether there are existing homes and structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-16. Of course, the answer to that question is ‘YES’ . . . The process the AF followed in this scoring is mind-boggling. For two categories (mission and capacity), they evaluated the base’s suitability for the future aircraft–the F-35A; but for one category (environment) they evaluated the base’s suitability for the existing aircraft—the F-16.

On the scoring sheet for Burlington, the actual answers given by the National Guard as to whether there are existing homes and structures in the accident and noise areas for the F-16 was “NO”–even though thousands of homes are there within the F-16’s incompatible noise contour.

The Vermont Air National Guard and Vermont Senators, Congressman, and Governor all have a chance to fix the problem unless they continue to:

fail to see thousands of homes in the crash and high noise zones
fail to ask the Air Force to base all criteria on actual F-35 data
allow faulty answers even regarding the F-16 to continue in the scoring
fail to seek correction
fail to recognize that no Air Force official ever said that without the F-35 the base would close or that no other mission for the Vermont Air National Guard is available
fail to see the F-35 program as one to enrich senior executives at Lockheed-Martin at the expense of salaries, benefits, and jobs of members of the military
agree to sacrifice homes, schools, churches, businesses, communities, and towns here in Vermont

In view of the fact that thousands of homes are in the 65 dB DNL zone and the crash zone, will the Vermont National Guard and our Vermont political leaders now act vigorously to protect those thousands of homes, families, schools, churches, businesses, and communities?

Especially when the best argument raised for basing the F-35 in Burlington is economic but even the economic argument is flawed by the facts that it (a) assumes the worst case, that the base will close, even though no Air Force official ever said so; (b) ignores the fact that property valued at over $700 million in just one of the towns, Winooski, is at risk; and (c) ignores the fact that spending $1.4 trillion on the F-35 takes money from soldier’s salaries, benefits, and jobs as well as taking money from education, health care, infrastructure, and many other needs.

The Free Press article also reported Col. Freeman saying, “as we go through each stage, new information is presented and scores from Stage One are no longer applicable.” However, if the process was flawed and Burlington should have been screened out at Stage One, why is it being retained in the process now? Why is the Air Force settling for basing its F-35’s at a location that should have been screened out if not for a fundamentally flawed Stage One screening process?

Should the Air Force, the Vermont Air National Guard, the Senators, the Congressman, and the Governor now be asking the Air Force to start over and do its screening based on actual F-35 data and narrow the field to those bases that actually meet its sensible criteria of having no houses in the crash and noise zones?

Should our political leaders now be asked by all citizens of Vermont to stop cheerleading for the F-35 and tell the Air Force not to base the bomber in Burlington?

James Marc Leas is a patent lawyer in South Burlington

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  • Brad Little

    Your amount of data is overwhelming and certainly accurate I assume. But the bottom line is…. You don’t want the F35 in Vermont. Would you throw the current aircraft out ( F16) if you could? How about just close the airport……commercial aircraft can crash as well causing a lot more death and destruction. By the w ay, we’re the houses near the end of the runway built before or after the airport opened ? There was a time when communities fought hard to ACQUIRE military installations or keep them open if cuts were looming….jobs, pride and other factors wee involved. Don’t know about you, but if my son or daughter were in the Air Force or ANG, i would want them to have the best equipment available and we should be proud that Vermont has been chosen to receive that kind of upgrade. Just for the record……. The F35 is not a “bomber” but is a “tactical fighter” aircraft. There is a big difference in size, function, and noise.

    • Christian Noll

      “The F-35 is not a ‘bomber’ but a ‘tatical figher’ aircraft.”

      The F-35 is designed specifically to penetrate the protected air space of foreign nations. That’s why it has stealth technology.

      Did you think we gave it stealth technology to avoid our own radar?

      IT IS a bomber. Its being retrofitted to carry TWO B-A6 Nuclear bombs. There is not one thing “Defensive” about the F-35. Let us be very clear, it is an ATTACK aircraft and I’d say Mr Little understands little.

      The entire rest of the developed world hates us and THIS is why. We Americans think its our god for saken dutry to go around invading which ever country our intelligence services can get us into for the sole purposes of using our military hardware. With the help of our own media the American public “Dumbs Up” to this.

      Further more and with much regreat, some of the local gardsmens I’ve had to deal with are OBNOXIOUS and arrogant. At times I’m embarrassed that our country produceses such amazing disrespect for its own peaceful tax paying citizens.

      If the military is allowed to LIE to their American public, how can we trust them to defend us?

      Do we have to defend ourselves from the very people we hire to protect us?

      Same with the police these days.

      America needs to stop producing so many distructive weapons under the pretext of security. America needs to WAKE UP and start stimulating the economy peacefully and not always with guns and bombs.

      And no Mr. Little, I am NOT proud of it.

      I’m not proud of it at all.

      “Pride” comes from something much greater than killing people.

      What I feel here is closer to shame, not pride.


      • Brad Little

        Mr. Noll…you and I agree on one point……we should not be the “world’s policeman” and I will never support our going militarily into anywhere again unless ALL OF US…… Me, you, our children are immediately threatened and are willing to sacrifice. If it does not meet that criteria, we should not be doing it. That being said ….. I have great pride in our armed forces and respect for the police who put their lives on the line everyday in places and situations that neither one of us would want to be in. Finally…… I was in various European countries lately and the average citizens don’t “hate” us. The ultra nationalists and the extreme left in those countries DO “hate” us I suppose but they also “hate” each other and their own governments as well. I support the basing of the F35 in Vermont.

  • timothy price

    “…. how did the Air Force miss seeing the thousands of houses, schools, churches, and businesses it identified in its own EIS? How did they miss seeing all of downtown Winooski in the crash and noise zones and so much of South Burlington, Burlington, Williston, and Colchester?”

    Answer: the same way that NIST came up with “planes and fire” destroyed the WTC 3 buildings, and then the Government, the media, the 9/11 Commission Report, all saying that it was done by Muslim terrorists. How did they miss the molten steel, the explosions, the melted concrete, the nanothermite residue throughout? With ALL the evidence pointing to controlled demolition, why did they never test for explosives, even though the standard procedure for such finding requires it? Because these lies all further the plans that some choose to inflict on us. Most of everything today that we are told, by our government and their media, is lies.

    As for the National Guard…
    (From their mission statements) “The Guard and Reserve are essential to our Nation’s daily worldwide defense operations. Their contributions are no longer limited to times of national mobilization, but are instead critical to our very ability to project power.”

    This rewriting of the Constitutional provision for a State Militia tries to remove the right of the people of Vermont to have a people’s militia.
    Constitution of the United States; Article II:
    A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

    Article II is based upon Section 13 of the Virginia Bill of Rights as follows:
    “That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, the natural, and safe defense of a free State; that standing armies, in time of peach, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty, and that in all cases the military should be under the strict subordination to, and governed by, the people.”

    Vermonters need to get our militia back, to guard the people of Vermont from enemies, both foreign and domestic.

    Thank you for this article; it is very important information to have at this point. Perhaps there will be a way to resist the militarization of Vermont under the control of the globalists. Maybe Vermonters will be faithful to the truth and it will set us free. Thank you Vtdigger.

  • Jonathan Leavitt

    Some of the Many Reasons for Rejecting the F-35

    The same number of Vermont tax dollars spent on education, health care, mass transit, or construction, creates many more jobs than military spending like the F-35. This according to 2007 and 2011 studies from the Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts. Twice as many jobs, at higher average pay, are created by spending money on education than on defense. The F-35 program sucks our Federal money away and employs fewer people. And more people will be left unemployed.

    Home Values, the Housing Market and Noise:

    Sound level, sound intensity, and loudness are explained in the Air Force draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). According to figures in the EIS, the maximum loudness of the F-35 is more than four times louder than the the maximum loudness of the F-16 both at takeoff and landing.
    According to South Burlington City Council President and retired Air Force Colonel, Rosanne Greco in a must read Burlington Free Press Op-Ed:
    “Noise is causing the demolition of homes. For example, 1,578 homes are currently in the noise contour area. So far, 200 South Burlington homes have been identified for purchase and demolition. 1,366 more homes, for a total of 2,944 homes, would be in this noise area if the F-35As were based here. And, the FAA home buy-out money is not guaranteed; nor is the airport under any obligation to purchase homes. In fact, last week, the airport said they were not going to purchase any more homes.”

    A June 17th Burlington Free Press article describes the home demolition as having “turned a once-thriving neighborhood into a local Detroit of empty houses and empty lots by airport buyouts.”

    All of this comes in a local context of dramatic austerity and growing economic inequality

    The University of New Hampshire Carsey Institute reported in 2007 that over the last 15 years Vermont ranked second among all the states for fastest growth in income inequality.

    Burlington’s middle class is “shrinking faster than almost anywhere else in the country” according to US Census data reported in a BFP cover story.

    According to VHFA 81% of Vermonters cannot afford the median priced home. So what’s the sum effect of all of these factors working in combination. As Colonel Greco points out, removing nearly three thousand homes from the local housing market at time when only 19% of Vermonters can afford the median priced home, for a program which is half as effective as health care or education in creating jobs and lower average pay, while diverting Vermonters tax dollars away from meeting our communities fundamental needs and towards $160 million per plane weapons systems we can ill afford.

    The logic of military weapon’s systems like the F-35 can be best explained by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

    The South Burlington City Council and School Board, as well as the Winooski School Board, have all formally rejected the F-35 being based at Burlington International Airport.

    Lockheed’s weapons yield austerity for Vermonters:
    Lockheed’s “F-35 was intended to be an “affordable” fighter-bomber (at roughly $50 million per copy), a perfect complement to the much more expensive F-22 “air superiority” Raptor. But the usual delays, cost overruns, technical glitches and changes in requirements have driven the price tag of the F-35 up to $160 million per plane, assuming the US military persists in its plans to buy 2,400 of them. (If the Pentagon decides to buy fewer, the cost-per-plane will soar into the F-22 range.) By recent estimates the F-35 will now cost US taxpayers (you and me, that is) at least $382 billion for its development and production run. Such a sum for a single weapons system is vast enough to be hard to fathom. It would, for instance, easily fund all federal government spending on education for the next five years.The escalating cost of the F-35 recalls the most famous of Norman Augustine’s irreverent laws: “In the year 2054,” he wrote back in the early 1980s, “the entire defense budget will [suffice to] purchase just one aircraft.”


    Is this any suprise. The Pentagon relies on cheating,lying,bribing,and bullying to gets its way. The Airf Force once bulldozed over one hundred homes into the sea becasue the people who had lived their for hunfreds of years refused to move to make way for an air strip. Who would trust them on anything given their sordid history who in conjunction with corporate criminals like Lockheed should be booted from the planet forever.