STRONG — When he was 10 years old, Tom Mauzaka loved jet noise.
That's what prompted his 30-year, 4,000-flight-hour career as a C-130 cargo jet navigator with the U.S. Air Force.
However, now that the colonel is retired and living in Strong, he is opposed to the Air Force's proposals to lower the flight ceiling in Western Maine for F-15 and F-16 fighters and to allow F-35 stealth fighters to train here.
The Air Force filed a draft environmental impact statement April 13 to base its new F-35A Lightning II fighters at the Burlington Air Guard Station in Burlington, Vt.
If that base is chosen instead of a base in Florida or South Carolina, air combat training flights would be conducted over Western Maine in the Condor airspace, which stretches from Coos County, N.H., across Oxford and Franklin counties in Western Maine and into Somerset County.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said last Friday that if the F-35s are based in Burlington, 95 percent of the flights would occur above 5,000 feet elevation. The other 5 percent would be below 5,000 feet.
A previous plan proposed lowering the flight ceiling over Maine from 7,000 feet above mean sea level to 500 feet above ground level.
“What I'm objecting to is that for the past five years, we were told that the F-35 wouldn't fly in Maine, and now by way of Burlington you might get it 5 percent of the time,” Mauzaka said.
He said the 5 percent would be "just a way for the camel to get its nose in the tent. This is a multiuse fighter and if Western Maine becomes open to that, there's no checks and balances on this 5 percent.”
Another issue is noise.
“The F-35 is extremely loud,” Mauzaka said. “I mean, you won't be able to hear yourself think. This would be in excess of 100 decibels.”
He added, “In Western Maine, one of the valuable things that we have is the quality of life, and to have these guys running around at 500 feet at over 100 decibels, it's not right and they don't paint that clear a picture.”
Toni Seger of Lovell accused the Air Force of providing inaccurate information about jet-noise levels in its proposals.
“I've experienced the sound of these flights and it makes me feel like I'm living in a rice paddy in Vietnam and the bombs are going to drop next,” Seger said Thursday by email.
“It's terrifying. You can't hear them on approach because the jets are in the rear. That's what's so scary. They're on top of you before you realize it,” Seger said.
Mauzaka said the Condor proposal is for fighter pilots to do intercepts in which they fly and chase each other.
“So there's going to be power on, power off where they're going to accelerate and decelerate, and it's going to be louder than that,” he said.
Mauzaka likened the noise to standing at the end of the runway at the Portland Jetport.
Last summer, he and others fighting the Air Force proposals testified with Air Force officials before Gov. Paul LePage and gained LePage's support against lowering the flight ceiling.
When he learned Monday of the F-35 draft environmental impact statement for Burlington, Mauzaka sought help from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
He got it Thursday when they issued a joint statement to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley.
They requested that a public hearing be held in Maine due to the potential introduction of a much louder type of aircraft than currently flies here. The closest scheduled public hearing is on May 15 in Littleton, N.H.
The senators also asked the Air Force to revise its Condor environmental impact statement, because it "does not mention, consider, or sufficiently evaluate the impact on the environment or ambient noise level of the F-35."
It's not about patriotism or national security, Mauzaka said. "It is about the Air Force trying to find a place for its noisy jet in a time of military-force reduction."
He added, "If the people of Burlington want the jets, the jobs and the noise that goes with them, fine. There's 70,000 people that live in Western Maine and they don't need a daily air show."