First F-35s for the Air National Guard

 - September 20, 2019, 6:21 AM
The first aircraft earmarked for the Vermont ANG made its first flight at Fort Worth on July 31. (photo: Lockheed Martin)

On September 19 a pair of Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs landed at Burlington Air National Guard Base (located at the city’s international airport) to begin the equipment of the first Air National Guard unit to receive the type. The F-35s are the first two of 20 to be assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont ANG.

The wing is scheduled to receive seven aircraft before year-end, the first new-build fighters to be delivered to the ANG for several years. The 158th FW will become the second operational wing to operate the F-35A, following the 388th FW (and its Air Force Reserve Command associate 419th FW) at Hill AFB, Utah. The next active-duty operational bases are to be RAF Lakenheath, England (48th FW) and Eielson AFB, Alaska (354th FW).

“The arrival of the F-35 is a significant milestone for the Green Mountain Boys of the Vermont Air National Guard and state of Vermont. The incredible hard work and dedication from our airmen and the support from our families and community have brought us to this very moment,” said Colonel David Smith, 158th Fighter Wing commander. “The F-35 provides tremendous capability and secures our future for decades.”

F-35s greeted
On arrival at Burlington the F-35s were greeted by the flag of the Green Mountain Boys militia, which was founded in the late 1760s prior to the establishment of the Vermont Republic. (Photo: Air National Guard)

Burlington becomes the 19th base in eight countries to host F-35 operations, and more than 425 aircraft have been delivered. The 158th FW and its 134th Fighter Squadron flew F-16s in various models from 1986 until the last F-6C/D Block 30s left Burlington on April 6 this year to allow the base to prepare infrastructure for the arrival of the F-35A. Pilots and maintainers trained on the F-35A with the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida.

F-35As will supplant F-16s throughout the active-duty and reservist units over the coming years. The next two ANG bases to receive the type have been named as Truax Field ANGB in Madison, Wisconsin, and Dannelly Field in Montgomery, Alabama. Under current plans both locations will receive F-35As in 2023, the Wisconsin location being first. Gowen Field (Boise, Idaho), Selfridge ANGB (Michigan) and Jacksonville ANGS (Florida) were also considered, and are likely to be in the next tranche of ANG bases to receive the F-35. The first Air Force Reserve base is to be Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas.

F-16s in flight
The “Green Mountain Boys” flew F-16s for more than three decades. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)