Boise & Garden City

The F-35s have been seen at Gowen Field. On Monday, Boiseans can hear them.

Why this is the first big air show in Boise in more than 20 years

Gowen Thunder Air Show this weekend features 40 types of aircrafts, including the Thunderbirds and the Snowbirds. The last time Boiseans saw a big air show was in 1996.
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Gowen Thunder Air Show this weekend features 40 types of aircrafts, including the Thunderbirds and the Snowbirds. The last time Boiseans saw a big air show was in 1996.

The first F-35s ever to land in Boise arrived Friday from Hill Air Force Base in Salt Lake City, crew members said.

The two jets were parked Saturday on the tarmac at Gowen Field, the Idaho Air National Guard base that shares the Boise Airport’s runways, for thousands of Gowen Thunder 2017 air show spectators to see.

And the cutting-edge warplanes were a big attraction, even when popular aerial performances were taking place, such as the show put on by the Royal Canadian Snowbirds and the Air Force Thunderbirds. Pilots, mechanics and maintenance experts chatted with people who stopped to ask questions about the F-35s. Security forces monitored the taped-off area around the planes to make sure the public didn’t get too close.

The crowd didn’t hear the F-35s on Saturday, though, because they remained parked for the duration of the show. In order to fly in air shows, the F-35s and their pilots must be part of a demonstration team, Idaho Air National Guard spokeswoman Cassidy Morlock said. Such a team exists and has performed at 14 events this year, Morlock said. Gowen Thunder’s organizers requested that the team come to Gowen Thunder, she said, but were unsuccessful.

People who pay close attention will get a chance to hear what F-35s sound like soon. Crew members said the jets will take off from Boise on Monday morning, although they weren’t sure what time they’d depart.

F-35s have become a divisive topic over the past couple of years in Boise. The debate has intensified since December, when the U.S. Air Force announced that Gowen Field was one of five finalists for a National Guard wing of the new jets. Proponents of landing that mission cite the Guard’s role in Boise and the economic boost as factors for pursuing it; opponents are worried about excessive noise and pollution.

Capt. Robert Belz, who piloted one of the F-35s, said he likes the way they fly. He said he’s trained on them for about 100 hours after never having flown a fighter plane before. He said he’s one of a few hundred people worldwide who has experience flying an F-35.

The F-35 instrumentation took some getting used to, Belz said. Unlike the other planes he’s trained on, the F-35 doesn’t have many buttons in the cockpit. Instead, it relies on a touch-screen system that’s “like two big iPads,” Belz said.

Master Sgt. Scott Bemiller, a mechanic who works on the F-35s, said he can’t tell much difference in noise between an F-35, F-15, F-16 or other fighter jets with afterburners.

But people who live near the airport worry that basing F-35s in Boise will destroy the tranquility of their homes because the new planes are louder than the A-10s stationed at Gowen now. They’ve been locked in a war of words with people who advocate bringing the F-35 to Boise.

Bemiller said Hill Air Force Base’s F-35s don’t seem to bother people in Salt Lake City too much, probably because they’re used to hearing F-16s, which have been based there since the late 1970s.

The pro-F-35 crowd includes most of Boise’s and Idaho’s political leaders, such as Gov. Butch Otter, Mayor Dave Bieter, the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce and the state’s congressional delegation. Landing an F-35 mission would stabilize the Idaho Air National Guard’s future, they say.

The Air Force’s announcement of whether Boise gets an F-35 squadron could come any day. Earlier this year, Guard officials said the decision was expected this fall.

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