F-35 jets’ home landing in Madison met with both excitement, disappointment

Opponent says he's 'not done fighting'

MADISON, Wis. – The announcement that the U.S. Air Force has chosen Madison to house its F-35 jets at Truax Field is drawing both excitement and disappointment, as both sides of a months-long debate adjust to the news.

It was a three-year process to bring the fleet to the 115th Fighter Wing in Madison, which employs 1,200 full- and part-time workers, according to Lt. Col. Dan Statz.

“Along with that flying mission, it brings along 1,200 men and women dedicated to supporting the state Wisconsin with great training and capabilities of equipment that they bring,” Statz said.

That’s not worth it for many opponents, including environmental engineer Steve Klafka of Safe Skies Clean Water Wisconsin.

“The current noise from the F-16 fighter jets training is already a problem and already impacts the low income and families of color that are being forced to live near Truax,” Klafka said.

An Air Force draft Environmental Impact Statement shows the F-35s could lead to a significant increase in noise on Madison’s north side, but Lt. Col. Charlie Merkel said they don’t expect them to be much louder than the current F-16s.

“It’s going to sound very similar,” Merkel said.

Badger Air Community Council president Chris Arenz said the EIS shows worst-case scenarios.

“Now is the time, now that the decision has been made, for us to move forward together collaboratively and for those impacted, make sure we have mitigation in place,” Arnez said, adding that noise mitigation can include adjusting flight paths and takeoffs, along with funding to help insulate homes.

Helping those most impacted in the neighborhoods is on Klafka’s mind as well, may it be insulating homes or finding new ones, along with a new focus.

“We’re not done fighting,” Klafka said.

That includes potential legal action requesting a new EIS with more information and pushing for the cleanup of area waters contaminated with PFAS.

Merkel and Statz said it’s unlikely the F-35 placement decision will be reversed but hope everyone can join forces on mitigation.

“The Fighter Wing has existed here for 71 years with a great symbiotic relationship with the community,” Staz said. “We really look forward to continuing that with the opportunity that’s been given, that really gives us the next 50 years to continue that relationship.”