On Aug. 7, Elaine Clegg stood at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, Utah, and listened to the roar of F-35s taking off and landing a couple hundred yards away.
Clegg, president of the Boise City Council, also witnessed F-16s and other planes at the base. She said she couldn’t tell that much difference between the various aircraft.
“They’re jets,” she said Wednesday. “They’re loud.”
Amid a yearslong, sometimes ugly debate over basing F-35s in Boise, the Utah trip was a rare opportunity for city officials to hear in person just how loud the jets are.
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Lauren McLean, Clegg’s second-in-command on the council, was at Hill, too. Her impression of the F-35s aligned with Clegg’s.
Clegg and McLean said the F-35s in Utah were using afterburners — acceleration devices that substantially increase aircraft noise.
“Even with (the afterburners), the ‘loud’ is pretty short-lived,” Clegg said of the F-35s in Utah. “Coming toward you, it’s not all that loud, and then, for a bit, as it becomes parallel with you and beyond for maybe 10 seconds, there’s a lot of noise and then it’s gone.”
The U.S. Air Force has made Gowen Field, the Idaho Air National Guard base that shares the Boise Airport’s runways, one of five National Guard finalists for a wing of F-35s. The F-35 is the U.S. military’s cutting-edge warplane, designed to attack targets in the air and on the ground.
Idaho’s political and economic establishment, including most of City Hall, Gov. Butch Otter, the state’s congressional delegation and the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, are in favor of bringing F-35s to Boise. They say it would ensure Gowen’s long-term future and boost the local economy.
Clegg said Air Force officials in Utah told her landing an F-35 mission likely would spur technology-related businesses in Boise.
But the prospect of replacing Gowen’s A-10s with the much louder F-35s has alarmed airport neighbors, who worry the new plane’s noise would make their homes unlivable and Boise a less enjoyable place. They don’t believe military officials who say pilots wouldn’t necessarily use afterburners at takeoff in Boise.
If the Air Force picks Gowen, it will conduct an environmental impact study that would examine how noise from the F-35s would affect Boise. The Idaho Air National Guard has an open request to the Air Force to bring an F-35 to Boise, Borders said. But that request hasn’t been fulfilled, and availability of the aircraft and qualified pilots may keep it from happening.
Clegg said she would use her position on the City Council to monitor the study and make sure it’s thorough and transparent.
Mayor Dave Bieter and Amber Pence, an intergovernmental affairs specialist who works in his office, joined Clegg and McLean at Hill Air Force Base.
All four were in Utah for a series of economic development meetings in nearby Salt Lake City. They took advantage of being so close to the base in Ogden to get a personal look at the F-35s, Clegg said.
Bieter has advocated for a continued Air Guard mission at Gowen — whether it features F-35s or some other type of warplane. He spoke to Air Force officials in Utah about outreach the military has done to encourage community support for their mission, spokesman Mike Journee said.
The mayor has seen the F-35 in action before, Journee said, so he wasn’t surprised by its noise. And the Utah trip didn’t change the mayor’s opinion that an F-35 squadron would be good for the city, Journee said.
Bieter also met with Air Guard officials this week in Burlington, Vt., which is home to the only Guard base with an F-35 mission. He was in Burlington for a meeting of mayors from around the country to talk about a variety of issues facing cities.
Journee said the Guard in Vermont praised the facilities at Gowen and the quality of airspace available. The Idaho Guard has held up both as advantages in the competition for an F-35 mission.
ON THE FENCE
McLean said she supports the mission at Gowen Field and the guardsmen and women who work there.
She wants some kind of flying mission to continue at Gowen, but she hasn’t taken a position on whether the F-35 is right for Boise. She said she’ll reserve judgment until the Air Force conducts its environmental impact study — if Gowen is chosen.
Because of the afterburner question and the different layout of Hill’s base, the trip was valuable, but didn’t give her “a clear sense of what impact the planes would have in Boise,” she said.
“This is an issue I’m thinking a lot about,” McLean said. “Because I’m hearing a lot of support for a new mission, but also I’m hearing from a lot of citizens who are really concerned.”