On May 6th, six pilots assigned to the 134th Fighter Squadron, Vermont Air National Guard, stepped into the brisk morning sun and approached their F-35 Lightning IIs.
That morning, six F-35s were launched to train for a large force exercise flying mission â€“ and it just so happened that the third aircraft to take off also reached a milestone as the 500th F-35 to take flight from the 158th Fighter Wing.
Maj. Michael Cady, chief of weapons and tactics for the 134th Fighter Squadron, Vermont Air National Guard, piloted Tail 5278, the third F-35 in line to take off that morning, and notably achieved the 500th sortie for the Green Mountain Boys.
“I’m just a pilot on any given day, flying an airplane. It just so happened that I ended up in the jet for the 500th sortie. That’s pretty cool, it’s special to be a part of not only this unit [but also] such a milestone as 500 sorties. I thought it was also cool that I had my dedicated crew chief Joe there with me launching outâ€¦ It was cool to share that moment with him as well,” said Cady.
Staff Sgt. Joseph Payea and Airman 1st Class Isabel Murphy, two crew chiefs assigned to the 158th Maintenance Group, were the team that launched the 500th sortie.
Murphy, a Vermont native who has been working at the Vermont Air National Guard full-time since the arrival of their first F-35s in September 2019, reflected on the significance of this milestone:
“It’s important because we’re the first Guard base in the country to receive the F-35. That’s pretty hugeâ€¦ It took a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, it took a lot of learningâ€¦ It takes a lot of patience and time. It’s all about teamwork here, it’s all about family.”
So, what keeps the Green Mountain Boys driving towards this mission?
“I think the driving factor is really the work ethic and pride that the Green Mountain Boys have in our mission. We feel it is incredibly important to meet the mission requirements that our state officials, as well as our national commanders, expect of us,” said Cady.
Murphy added, “There’s no other feeling that’s greater than sending these birds off and watching them take off, and knowing that I was a part of that. I accomplished that, I helped get that in the air.”
Aside from the excitement of completing 500 flying missions and looking forward to the next milestone of 1000 sorties, the Green Mountain Boys are now directing their focus towards Northern Lightning, a large-scale, integrated exercise scheduled to take place at Volk Field later this year.
The Vermont Air National Guard currently has 15 F-35 Lightning IIs and expects to have their full complement of jets by the end of August 2020.