Air Guard offers safety data to counter F-35 opponents

Lt. Col. Chris Caputo of the Vermont Air National Guard presented the safety record of the F-16 aircraft at the Burlington International Airport during a news conference at the Guard’s Wing Commander's Conference Room on Thursday.  Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Lt. Col. Chris Caputo of the Vermont Air National Guard presented the safety record of the F-16 aircraft at the Burlington International Airport during a news conference at the Guard’s Wing Commander’s Conference Room on Thursday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

SOUTH BURLINGTON — Vermont Air National Guard officials say opponents of the F-35 have misrepresented the safety information in the final Air Force Environmental Impact Statement, released last week, in an attempt to derail the basing of the advanced fighter jets in Burlington.

During a news conference at the Air Guard station Thursday, officials presented the safety record of the F-16s based at Burlington International Airport and addressed a variety of other safety concerns around the proposed F-35 beddown.

According to the EIS’ analysis of the F-22’s safety record, a jet that is considered to be similar in design to the F-35, the class A mishap rate over 11 years is 7.34 mishaps per 100,000 flight hours. This equates to 10 class A accidents over 136,315 flight hours.

Lt. Col. Chris Caputo of the Vermont Air National Guard, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force’s Safety School, said the data in the EIS has been misrepresented as part of a scare tactic to prevent the basing of the F-35 in Vermont.

“The critics of the F-35 are using flawed assumptions to incorrectly present safety concerns to our community,” Caputo said.

These assumptions, he said, include selectively using data from the EIS and not understanding the meaning of a “class A” mishap, which does not always involve an injury.

The Final EIS defines a class A mishap, which are the most severe variety, as an accident involving property damage totaling $2 million or more or a fatality or permanent disability. However, Caputo said this is not synonymous with a “crash.”

To provide another perspective on the safety record of military aircrafts operated by the Guard, Caputo compared the safety record of the F-16s with commercial aircraft at the airport.

Using data from the U.S. Air Force, the National Transportation Safety Board, Burlington International Airport and Air National Guard safety statistics, Caputo said the airport’s commercial aircraft are 8.5 times more likely to have an accident than the planes used by the Guard, such as the F-16.

Apples and pumpkins

Rosanne Greco, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who is now a member of the South Burlington City Council, said comparing the F-16s to commercial aircrafts is like comparing apples to pumpkins.

She cited the EIS that states that the two aircrafts are vastly different.

“Fighter F-16 and F-35A aircraft conduct their operations at vastly different speeds and altitudes than commercial jets, so comparing the two would not be reasonable,” the EIS states. “It would be like comparing the mishap risk of a passenger bus with that of a race car.”

Guard officials said the F-35 will not come to South Burlington without adequate training hours. The F-35 will have flown for 14 years before arriving to Vermont in 2020. In 1986, the F-16 flew for 12 years before it came to Vermont, Caputo said.

The F-35 safety record is perfect, which is not reported in the EIS, he said. There are currently 78 F-35s flying at six locations, Caputo said. There will be 750,000 flight hours before it comes to Burlington, he said.

In December 2016, the Air Force plans to have the F-35 operational, Caputo said. Hill Air Force Base in Utah, the active-duty military base preferred beddown location, will be the first to receive the fighters, Caputo said.

“Before it comes to the Vermont Air National Guard, it’s going to go to an active duty base and then it will also probably be deployed over to the Pacific theater as well,” Caputo said.

Material matters

Caputo said the Guard is equipped to respond to accidents involving composite materials used on the F-35, a material that is considered to burn longer than other material used for the production of aircraft. He said the F-16s and other commercial aircraft at the Burlington International Airport use this material, making them no different than the F-35.

Greco said the F-16 is 2 percent composite material by weight and the F-35 is 43 percent by weight.

Greco has said that the composite material used on the F-35 burns longer than materials currently used in aircrafts and releases toxic gases, sometimes for days. She said when the material burns layer by layer, it releases fibers that are considered by engineers to be similar to asbestos.

She said to fight this sort of fire requires large quantities of foam and specialized personal protection to protect against the fumes containing toxic fibers and lethal gases produced by burning composites.

F-35 standards reviewed

The Guard’s presentation on the airport’s safety record comes shortly after the F-35 program was questioned for not meeting quality production standards.

A Sept. 30 report by the Inspector General at the Department of Defense assessed the quality assurance procedures of the F-35 Lightning II Program, commonly referred to as the F-35 Program. They found that the program failed to meet basic standards of quality when inspected last year.

As a result, the report says failure to meet these standards will hurt the jets’ performance, reliability, maintainability and the cost of the F-35 program.

Specifically, the report states that Lockheed Martin, the aeronautics company contracted to lead the program, and its subcontractors did not establish an effective quality assurance organization or oversight.

The assessment of Lockheed Martin resulted in 70 findings that identified weaknesses in Lockheed Martin’s implementation of an AS9100 Quality Management System, which is a standard of quality assurance in the aerospace industry.

There were a total of 363 findings across all major contractors of the F-35 Program, the report states.

Col. David Baczewski, commander of the Vermont Guard’s 158th fighter wing and a veteran F-16 pilot, said Lockheed Martin has addressed about 200-300 of these concerns.

The evaluation was performed by a team of 14 to 18 quality assurance engineers, trained and certified in AS9100, who had an average of 15 years of quality assurance audit experience, the report says.

John Herrick

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  • This article fails to make the reader aware the credential deficit in retired Ms. Greco. By leading your story from a frankly younger, fresher, more qualified Lt. Col. Caputo, then drifting into catch phrases like apples and pumpkins you really are missing the point. Lockheed Martin addressed many of the concerns. Also you fail to grasp that Vermonters are safer with the Green Mountain Boys covering our backs. The runways are better, the emergency equipment better. 9/11 reminds me of the days right after when we heard the fighter jets on patrol of the east coast. Can we talk about that safety/peace of mind as well?

    • Chris Lewis

      Ms Gerdt,

      Not to worry. It is abundantly clear who knows what they are talking about when it comes to flying and maintaining jets.

  • Marina Brown

    My opposition to the F-35 is not because the plane is unsafe for Vermonters but because is is VERY unsafe for people who the F-35 is dropping bombs on.

    It is fundementally unethical to go to war for any reason except for strict self defense. ‘Defending American interests worldwide’ is not an excuse for war.

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Issues of noise and safety are not near as important as the fact that the F-35 is designed to kill people. Basing an economy on death – is that really the best way for Vermont to go?
    It is immoral, unethical, and not really very smart when you consider how much the taxpayers have already lost on this. It can be described as a money-laundering scam – take the money from the taxpayers, and get it to the arms dealers.
    The Pentagon budget could be cut by 90% and we would still have enough weapons to kill every living thing on the planet.

  • Ray Gonda

    The VTANG and F-35 supporters GREEN RIBBONS FOR THE F-35 are being disingenuous about health impacts of military jets -(jets singled out since all of the iterations of the EIS state that the commercial jets noise is negligible compared to that of the military F16s at the Burlington Airport)

    In view of numerous studies, including the World Health Organization’s Report: Burden of Diseases from Environmental Noise, 2011 – exposing the adverse health effects of noise which includes aircraft noise on human beings, it becomes highly probable that the F-35 would present a significant increase in stress level hormones and increased cardio-vascular disease in adults and a markedly higher level of trauma, psychological and cognitive impairment in children.

    The cardiovascular findings have recently been confirmed principally by two new studies:

    1) the largest ever study of its kind, the recently released Harvard School of Public Health study covering 89 U.S. airports and over 6.5 million senior citizens which for the first time quantifies health impacts of airport noise on their rate of hopspitilizations that group for cardiovascular causes.

    http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f5561 which gives a definitive connection between airport noise and cardiovascular disease – in older people. It found that for each 10 dB dNL increase the hospitalization rate for people for 65 is 3.5%.

    All other things being equal that makes a 7% increase for the F35 compared to the F16 just due to the approx. 20 dB increase in noise (4x) of the F-35. So these jets can kill people in other ways that direct bombing.

    2) United Kingdom study based around London’s Heathrow Airport: http://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f5752. which found similar effects as the Harvard study but was not as rigorous.

    And yet more from the Harvard Study:

    “From the estimation of the population attributable fraction we found that, in total, 2.3% of hospitalizations for cardiovascular disease in our Medicare cohort were attributable to aircraft noise.”

    and yet more in conclding the report:

    “Despite limitations related to potential misclassification of exposure, we found a statistically significant association between exposure to aircraft noise and risk of hospitalization for cardiovascular diseases among older people living near airports.”

    Information about the World Health Organization (WHO):

    1. The REIS uses decades old studies regarding the health impacts to adults and children. More recent studies show overwhelming evidence that noise causes physical and psychological harm to human beings. In the case of children, there is convincing evidence that noise, in particular, aircraft noise, cause cognitive impairment in children.

    2. “A growing body of scientific knowledge demonstrates that children may suffer disproportionately from environmental health risks and safety risks” (Executive Order 13045, Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks, 2003).

    3. Even using old data, the RDEIS still cites studies reporting physical harm from noise.

    • “Other studies have reported hearing losses from exposure to aircraft noise” (RDEIS Page 30).

    • “Since the CHABA (a NIOSH and USEPA commissioned group) report (in 1981), there have been further studies that suggest that noise exposure may cause hypertension and other stress-related effects in adults” (RDEIS Page C-26).

    • “Children who were chronically exposed to aircraft noise…had modest (although significant) increases in blood pressure, significant increases in stress hormones, and a decline in quality of life” (RDEIS Page 30).

    • “The research reviewed does suggest that environments with sustained high background noise can have variable effects, including noise effects on learning and cognitive abilities and reports of various noise-related physiological changes“ (RDEIS Page C-28).

    • “In 2002 ANSI refers to studies that suggest that loud and frequent background noise can affect the learning patterns of young children“ (RDEIS Page C-28).

    • “It is generally accepted that young children are more susceptible than adults to the effects of background noise. Because of the developmental status of young children (linguistic, cognitive, and proficiency), barriers to hearing can cause interference or disruptions in developmental evolution” (RDEIS Page C-28-29).

    • “The Haines and Stansfield study indicated that there may be some long-term effects (to children) associated with exposure….” (RDEIS Page C-29).

    • “…there is increasing awareness that chronic exposure to high aircraft noise levels can impair learning. This awareness has led the WHO and a NATO working group to conclude that daycare centers and schools should not be located near major sources of noise, such as highways, airports, and industrial sites” (RDEIS Page 29).

    • More recent studies including those compiled and reviewed in the 2011 World Health Organization Report, “Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise” show overwhelming evidence of harm caused by noise.

    • “There is sufficient evidence from large-scale epidemiological studies linking the population’s exposure to environmental noise with adverse health effects. Therefore, environmental noise should be considered not only as a cause of nuisance but also a concern for public health and environmental health” (WHO Page xvii).

    • “There is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population” (WHO Page 105).

    • “It has been suspected for many years that children’s learning and memory are negatively affected by noise. Over 20 studies have shown negative effects of noise on reading and memory in children…” (WHO Page 45-53).

    • “Exposure during critical periods of learning at school could potentially impair development and have a lifelong effect on educational attainment” (WHO Pages 45-53).

    1. The RDEIS uses decades old studies regarding the health impacts to adults and children. More recent studies show overwhelming evidence that noise causes physical and psychological harm to human beings. In the case of children, there is convincing evidence that noise, in particular, aircraft noise, cause cognitive impairment in children.

    2. “A growing body of scientific knowledge demonstrates that children may suffer disproportionately from environmental health risks and safety risks” (Executive Order 13045, Protection of Children from Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks, 2003).

    3. Even using old data, the EIS still cites studies reporting physical harm from noise.

    • “Other studies have reported hearing losses from exposure to aircraft noise” (RDEIS Page 30).

    • “Since the CHABA (a NIOSH and USEPA commissioned group) report (in 1981), there have been further studies that suggest that noise exposure may cause hypertension and other stress-related effects in adults” (RDEIS Page C-26).

    • “Children who were chronically exposed to aircraft noise…had modest (although significant) increases in blood pressure, significant increases in stress hormones, and a decline in quality of life” (RDEIS Page 30).

    • “The research reviewed does suggest that environments with sustained high background noise can have variable effects, including noise effects on learning and cognitive abilities and reports of various noise-related physiological changes“ (RDEIS Page C-28).

    • “In 2002 ANSI refers to studies that suggest that loud and frequent background noise can affect the learning patterns of young children“ (RDEIS Page C-28).

    • “It is generally accepted that young children are more susceptible than adults to the effects of background noise. Because of the developmental status of young children (linguistic, cognitive, and proficiency), barriers to hearing can cause interference or disruptions in developmental evolution” (RDEIS Page C-28-29).

    • “The Haines and Stansfield study indicated that there may be some long-term effects (to children) associated with exposure….” (RDEIS Page C-29).

    • “…there is increasing awareness that chronic exposure to high aircraft noise levels can impair learning. This awareness has led the WHO and a NATO working group to conclude that daycare centers and schools should not be located near major sources of noise, such as highways, airports, and industrial sites” (RDEIS Page 29).

    • More recent studies including those compiled and reviewed in the 2011 World Health Organization Report, “Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise” show overwhelming evidence of harm caused by noise.

    • “There is sufficient evidence from large-scale epidemiological studies linking the population’s exposure to environmental noise with adverse health effects. Therefore, environmental noise should be considered not only as a cause of nuisance but also a concern for public health and environmental health” (WHO Page xvii).

    • “There is overwhelming evidence that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population” (WHO Page 105).

    • “It has been suspected for many years that children’s learning and memory are negatively affected by noise. Over 20 studies have shown negative effects of noise on reading and memory in children…” (WHO Page 45-53).

    • “Exposure during critical periods of learning at school could potentially impair development and have a lifelong effect on educational attainment” (WHO Pages 45-53).

    So, anyone who now refuses to acknowledge the link between aircraft noise – primarily military jets in S. Burlington is clearly in pure denial or is simply lying.

  • Sid McGovern

    Caputo and the Air Guard are pushing dangerous misinformation
    Commercial flights are NOT 8.5 times more likely to crash than military!! This is completely erroneous. There is NO way the F35 A will have 750000 operational hours by 2020. They are adding the other two f35’s operational hrs designed for different branches, Marine and Navy. Completely different aircraft, never mind all the limitations. Can’t fly near lighting. More than 150 miles. Dark.. And what will the impact of sequestration on flight hours? POGO estimates that the 35A will not have more than 300000 hrs by 2020. This is no where near 750000 that Caputo of Air Guard released in media. How could anyone make sound decisions on safety, if the Guard is misrepresenting? This damages reputation of Guard and the Air Force! People are not stupid. How the Air Force can pretend that this has been a transparent process? All they have to do is read the newspapers to see what the Air Guard has said that is contrary to the EIS. This only more proof in my mind that this was rigged while Leahy is still Senator. It IS a rush to get it based here, before he retires!!! If it was the best basing options and could secure the F35’s based on the facts, Leahy wouldn’t be needed at all.

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