NewsPolk County


What's with all the racket? It's 'America's freedom'

Posted at 4:13 PM, Nov 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-25 18:53:20-05

LAKELAND, Fla. -- What’s with all the racket?

Those living around Lakeland Linder International Airport are used to the comings and goings of both small and large aircraft.

After all it is home to NOAA, FlyLakeland, SUN ’n FUN, International Aero Academy and soon to be home to Amazon air cargo activity as well.

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What neighbors may not be used to is hearing the around-the-clock fighter jet afterburner coming from Draken International.

“It’s pretty loud,” Melissa Hazlett said. She’s lived near the airport for six years and still hasn’t gotten used to the flyovers.

“It’ll like jar you like ‘oh my gosh what is that?’” Hazlett says she has noticed the more-sporadic jets passing over head and her kids have too.

“It sounds like they are right there,” Colton Hazlett said pointing to his roof.

His sister, who wants to be in the Air Force doesn’t seem to mind the noise as much.

“It's pretty cool to see the planes go by,” Carley Hazlett added.

To fighter pilot, Lt. Col. Jerry “Jive” Kerby, the sound of his Mirage F-1 isn’t a noise at all, rather the sweet sound of home.

Lt. Col. Kerby spent 23 years in the United States Air Force before becoming the Vice President of Operations for Draken International.

“It’s America’s freedom,” Kerby said.

While ABC Action News showed up at Draken international to find out what the noise complaints were all about, we found a story behind the loud jets. A sound which resonates with many residents as prideful.

“We regenerate the airplanes and get them ready to go,” Lt. Col. Kerby said.

Draken International is a National Defense Contractor. The company, based at Lakeland Linder International Airport, purchases used war aircraft from ally countries and intern rebuilds them to simulate air fights with men and women who train in the United States Airfare.

According to Lt. Col. Kerby, it’s a cost-saving tactic to ensure the nation's military planes are not getting overused. But right now, Draken International is working on 21 unfinished warcraft in its hangar. Three of which have been regenerated and need airtime before being sent to Las Vegas.

But that’s where construction comes in.

Beginning December 2, Lakeland Linder International Airport will close down its 8,500 foot runway to begin a runway project.

Draken International needs at least 8,000 feet for their jets to take off.

“Making it much shorter and incapable of these airplanes to operate at that distance,” Lt. Col. Kerby said.

According to the airport, it’s a $26.9 million project which has been pushed up due to Amazon’s contract to build an air cargo facility at the Lakeland airport.

Gene Conrad, Lakeland Linder’s director, sent ABC Action News the following statement:

“We are preparing to embark on the largest infrastructure project the Lakeland Linder International Airport has undertaken since WWII. On Monday, December 2nd we will be closing our main 8,500 foot Runway 9/27 for a 90 day period as we commence construction to rehabilitate and strengthen the runway. Total project cost is right around $26.9 million. Construction on Runway 9/27 will continue until March 19th at which time the runway will be reopened in time for the annual SUN 'n FUN  Aerospace Expo. We are extremely grateful to Congressman Spano and his team, the FAA’s Orlando ADO office and our great partners at FDOT District 1 for believing in our vision and helping us fund this project this very important project.”

While the construction will be done by March or April, Draken International says they must send the three finished fighter jets to the Sarasota-Bradenton airport to continue training before flying out to Las Vegas where the U.S. Air Force train.

Lt. Col. Kerby says they recognize the impact the noise has on residents and plan to be as respectful as possible given the circumstances.

“We are really going to be mindful of the noise, we respect that you need the peace and quiet down there,” he said.

While construction on the runway will not complete until spring, Lt. Col. Kerby says the three Mirage F-1s will leave the Sarasota area by the end of January or early February.

The regeneration of the aircraft at Draken International will not halt during construction. Twenty-one jets will continue to be pieced together for the next round of aircraft that will head to Las Vegas for training purposes.