Military lands aircraft on closed Michigan highway in test of agility

Ben Wilson
The Detroit News

Alpena — The U.S. military shut down a state highway in northeast Michigan on Thursday to test its ability to land aircraft on civilian roads. 

The Michigan National Guard closed a portion of M-32 for five hours to perform the landing. Working with the Michigan Department of Transportation and local organizations, the Guard successfully landed four aircraft, including A-10s from the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township.

The Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing based in Selfridge worked alongside the Air Force’s 355th Wing from Arizona and the Air Force Special Operations Command out of Duke Field in Florida to perform the landings. 

An A-10 Thunderbolt jet takes off from highway M-32 west of Alpena Thursday, August 5, 2021, as part of a war-readiness exercise during Operation Northern Strike.

U.S. Air Force Col. James Rossi said the landing could be the first of its kind in America.

“This is believed to be the first time in history that modern Air Force aircraft have intentionally landed on a civilian roadway on U.S. soil,” the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center commander said in a statement. “Our efforts are focused on our ability to train the warfighter in any environment across the continuum so our nation can compete, deter, and win today and tomorrow.” 

Four planes landed, turned around and took off again on M-32. The planes used were C-146s and A-10s. Commonly known as the Warthog, the low- and slow-flying A-10s are designed for close-air support — a capability prized by U.S. military commanders in Iraq.

The military personnel had cut electricity along the road to avoid problems if a plane went off course. There were a couple of power lines across the road.

Electrical power was temporarily disconnected to residences immediately surrounding the landing area between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., according to a Michigan Air Guard press release. Air Force personnel were supposed to be working with residents in the affected homes so they contact their utility company for backup plans if necessary.

Emergency crews, including dozens of firefighters, lined the streets in case of an emergency. But there were no incidents. 

In 2018, A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft from the Michigan Air National Guard conducted highway landings in Estonia as part of the multinational exercise Saber Strike, according to the military.

The highway landing is aimed at demonstrating the Air Force’s ability to deploy rapidly from anywhere, at any time, which gives it a critical edge over its adversaries, the military says.

This landing operation is part of Exercise Northern Strike, an annual training exercise.

 Rossi thanked MDOT and the local community for the cooperation.

"Without them, this historic training event would not be possible,” he said in a statement. "This is only made possible by the unwavering support of the community members, the unmatched airspace that northern Michigan provides, as well as the support of community leaders, business and other support agencies.”

Freelance writer John Russell contributed.