Roach: Fly away home

Madison is being considered as a base for the F-35
Roach: Fly away home
Staff Sgt. Madelyn Brown/USAF via CNN

There is change coming to America’s military capabilities. Lockheed Martin Corp., an aerospace and defense company, has developed the new Lightning II F-35 jet aircraft. Costing over a trillion dollars to develop, it has a top speed of 1,200 miles per hour and possesses stealth capabilities. Except when it’s taking off, at which time it is very loud and supremely noticeable.

Madison is being considered as a base for the F-35, with the economic impact for the city pegged at nearly $100 million dollars per year. Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, has projected a potential of a $3 billion over the next 30 years. Those are big bucks for a state that receives only 0.8% of the Defense Department’s largesse. Of course we’ll have to subtract the $8 million dollars Mr. Trump is taking from Truax Field Air National Guard Base to build his huge border wall.

Environmental studies indicate that the F-35 will generate temporary noise levels ranging from that of a vacuum cleaner to a rock concert. Poor neighborhoods near Truax Field will bear the brunt of the decibels. No surprise, as it’s rare for costly homes to be built anywhere near an airport or interstate.
Madisonians are now voicing their opinions about the F-35. Imagine that. In this case, we are talking about citizens living near a military facility that has been in existence since June 1942 when it was christened Madison Army Airfield. For the last 77 years, thousands upon thousands of military and commercial aircraft have taken off and landed at Truax Field.

So why should citizens who chose to live near an airfield that has been operating for three quarters of a century be offended when planes make noise? Because, despite its inevitability, people don’t like change. And in Madison, with our robust democratic tendencies, folks voice opinions that rise in volume to the political equivalent of the F-35.

But really, what is life if not change? Imagine the impact when the first Europeans came to settle this area. The Sauk tribes and some Ho-Chunk didn’t like the change that brought. In fact, they fought back to defend their territories — remember the Black Hawk War? Then came those noisy trains that ran through town, spooking the horses and sheep. After that first steam whistle blew, the cows didn’t give milk for a week. Then came trolleys, cars, trucks and buses, and all the roads they required, paving over so much good farmland. A damn shame.

There were also people who were unhappy when the slaves were freed. (There was a war over that, too.) There was outrage when women were given the right to vote and finally allowed to become doctors, lawyers, professors and CEOs. In more modern times, there have been debates over bike lanes and Uber. Most adults in America have been witness to the demise of pay phones, film cameras, records, CDs and video tapes, all of them rendered moot by something that served us better.

Change is ruthless. For every home and housing development in Madison, something and someone was inconvenienced or displaced. As the acerbic comedian Dennis Miller once said, “A developer is someone who wants a home in the woods. An environmentalist is someone who already has a house in the woods.”
It’s a good bet that the first ape to walk upright caught flack from the rest of the primates for messing with the status quo.

Despite its disruption, change is also thrilling. In my distant youth when my haggard mother of six needed a break, my dad would take us out to Truax Field. He’d park the car on the outskirts of the airfield. We’d then perch on the hood and marvel as the big, new jet planes that flew right over our heads. To us the spectacle and noise was thrilling and added to the mystery of flight, which still fascinates us. Who among us doesn’t look overhead with fascination and wonder as the jets streak over Dane County?

Now Madison can be home to the most modern of all military aircraft, serving in defense of our country. Citizens near the airport clearly have a right to voice their views and personal health. They deserve respect and honest, transparent responses. Outrageous claims from either side of the discussion should be treated with the disdain they deserve. Given the trillion dollars spent by the Defense Department on the F-35, and the defense contractors who got rich on it, surely some adjustments can be made for those living closest to its roar.

But eventually, F-35s will land in Madison. Why? Because change always wins.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at