Vermont Air National Guard Receives Their First F-35A Lightnings


Ground crew members salute the arrival of new F-35s in Burlington Vermont Photography by Scott Zeno and Alice Leong

The 158th Fighter Wing’s 134th Fighter Squadron of the Vermont Air National Guard continues to accept deliveries of its newest mount – the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. The first two airframes arrived at Vermont’s Burlington International Airport on September 19, 2019 with the official arrival ceremonies occurring on October 19, 2019. Three more aircraft arrived early in December of that year as well. Twenty F-35As will eventually be delivered to the Wing… the nation’s first Air National Guard unit to operate the newest tactical fighter in the Air Force’s inventory.

Lt. Col. Nathan “Wiz” Graber and Lt. Col. Tony “Scrappy” Marek raise the state flag after flying the first two F-35s to Burlington Vermont

There was a large crowd of invitees on hand at the newly renovated Air National Guard facility in South Burlington, plus hundreds more outside of the facility, to watch the historic arrival of the first two fighters to the base. Lt Col Nathan “Wiz” Graber and Lt Col Tony “Scrappy” Marek drew the honors to pilot the aircraft on their delivery flight.

An interview is given by Wing Commander Colonel David Smith in front of a new F-35A Lightning II

Each aircraft made multiple low passes over the runway before pitching up into the local traffic pattern and landing. After exiting their aircraft, the pair held up a State of Vermont flag that was first unfurled by ground crew members as they taxied into the parking ramp. They were met by Wing and local dignitaries, including numerous photographers eager to record the event. Brigadier General Greg Knight, the Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard and Wing Commander Colonel David Smith (who retired after thirty years of service in January, 2020), were two of the speakers at the occasion.

Low pass by one of the first F-35A Lightning IIs to be based in Vermont

There has been resistance by some airport neighbors and other Vermonters against the F-35, which is slightly louder than those F-16s that preceded the fighters. The Burlington City Council supported a resolution to ask the Air Force to substitute another aircraft type for the F-35s, but there were no changes to the assignment. The flying unit has worked to alter some traditional flight patterns and operations, including the times of training flights, to accommodate the surrounding neighbors though.

Wing Commander’s aircraft, note the flag on the top of the tail surface 

Multi-ship training flights are already occurring in early 2020, in airspace north of the Green Mountains. The three newest aircraft were met enroute by one of the initial aircraft when they flew from Fort Worth to Burlington in early December 2019.

Pitching up over the Burlington International Airport

Over 400 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs have been delivered. In this case, the 5th generation multirole fighter replaced older generation F-16C/D Fighting Falcons. Different versions of the new jet will replace other F-16s, AV-8 Harriers, F/A-18 Hornets and other 3rd and 4th generation fighters in U.S. service, and around the world.

158th Fighter Wing Commander Colonel David Smith with Wing Director of Operations Lt. Colonel Mike “Gummy” Blair 

Many thanks go out to the 158th FW Public Affairs Office and Lt. Col. Michael Blair, Director of Operations, 158th FW for the information and access to the arrival ceremony.

Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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