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F-16 Architect Calls F-35 A Combat "Turkey"

A plan to bring F-35 fighter jets to Vermont has its backers—from Vermont’s congressional delegation to Governor Peter Shumlin, and business groups who say Vermont Air Guard jobs would be protected with the new jets.

But the plan has also drawn a lot of opposition, mostly from people concerned about the noise the planes would make in the communities around the Burlington International Airport where they would be based.

But beyond Vermont there are also those speaking out against the F-35, for reasons having more to do with its cost—an estimated $391 Billion -- and its effectiveness in military combat. One of those critics is Pierre Sprey, who was a chief architect of the fighter jets currently flown by the Vermont Air Guard—the F-16. He’s also worked with the Pentagon’s Secretary of Defense and for the Grumman Corporation.

Sprey is blunt when handing out grades for the new F-35.

“It’s, from a combat point of view, a disaster. And secondly, from a point of view of simple engineering competence, it’s a mess,” he said, pointing to the size of the plane.

“To do air to air combat, you need an airplane that can turn, and accelerate and that allows you to have extremely good vision all around because the most dangerous airplanes are the ones behind you. The airplane can hardly turn. The wings are too small. It’s heavy, it’s draggy, it’s as fat as a pregnant pig because it was designed for three services, and one of the services wanted a huge vertical lift fan in the middle of the fuselage so all three services have to suffer with this fat, draggy fuselage.”

Sprey says the airplane has poor range, and will be heavier than it needs to be, and will not be a good combat plane.

And he rejects the idea that F-16s are too old to be used in combat, saying they can be refurbished.

“The simple question is, is the airplane worth keeping? And in this case, it’s much more worth keeping than an F-35. So you simply rebuild them and extend the life at an enormously less cost than the F-35, because it’s a better airplane, it’s just that simple.”

Sprey is a chief architect of the F-16, but he says it wasn’t perfect from the beginning, and five years after the plane first flew they had a better designed airplane, than the original. But he says he shows no bias toward the F-16.

“I think it’s a disgrace that we’re stuck with the F-16 now, at least 25 years ago we should have started a vastly better airplane and at least had it in hand and ready to go.” But that’s not what happened.

“To make a good airplane it has to be small simple and inexpensive, but none of the services want and airplane that’s inexpensive, they want to send a lot of money to the contractors,” Sprey said.

Sprey will be speaking about the F-35 on Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Burlington.

A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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