Highway Landing Showcases Air Force Flexibility
American Air Power recently added a new adjective. Long known for air superiority and global reach, “agility” has now entered the lexicon.
On a state highway in northern Michigan, six U.S. Air Force aircraft landed and took off from the road, proving the Air Force’s ability to deploy to austere conditions and continue to operate. The mission underscored the flexibility and versatility highlighted in the Air Force’s new Air Power Doctrine, published earlier this year. That the aircraft came from both the active-duty component and the Air National Guard only underscored the Air Force’s ability to assemble the right force to forward project air power anywhere in the world.
At 9:15 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 5, an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft, flown by the 107th Fighter Squadron – pilot call sign “Sherlock” – touched down on M-32, the state highway that runs east-west across the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, not far from the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, part of a larger hub of Guard-operated training facilities known as the National All-Domain Warfighting Center. The aircraft is based at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, near Detroit.
The intentional highway landing and takeoff was the first using modern aircraft to take place in the United States.
Next to land was an A-10 from the 354th Fighter Squadron, which is based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. Next to land was a C-164 Wolfhound, operated by the Air Force Special Operations Command and based in Florida. A second trio, also comprised of two A-10s and a C-164, all from the same units, landed and took off from the same highway later that same morning.
“This landing showcases the versatility that exists in our Air Force today,” said Brig. Gen. Rolf Mammen, commanding general of the 127th Wing at Selfridge, of which the 107th is a component. “When our nation calls, our Airmen are ready to meet the challenge. The Airmen who were a part of today’s mission can and should look back on this day with pride at what they accomplished.”
Further highlighting the Air Force’s capacity to operate in a remote location, the highway was first “secured” by Special Tactics Airmen assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing. The Special Ops Airmen ensured the suitability of the highway for aircraft operations and then provided air traffic control support for the aircraft involved in the operation. While the Airmen had tactical control of the space during the operation, the landing was closely coordinated with the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, and local power company that temporarily removed several power lines that crossed the highway. Also on hand were local police and fire departments – all of whom have utilized the Alpena CRTC for training in the past.
“Our adversaries have advanced weapons systems and advanced technology that they can use against us, so we need to be able to operate efficiently in austere situations and gain proficiency in those operations,” said d Lt. Col. Brian Wyrzykowski, the mission commander for the highway landing – dubbed “Thunder LZ” – and a pilot with Michigan’s 127th Wing.
The highway landing was part of the Air Force’s focus on Agile Combat Employment (ACE), which provides the Air Force the flexibility that would be needed should the nation come into conflict with a near-peer adversary.
“The A-10 allows us to land a lot more places to get fuel, weapons and other armamentsso we can operate anywhere, anytime,” said Capt. John Renner, one of the 354th FS pilots who piloted an A-10 during the operation. “This will allow us to get away from using built-up bases that our adversaries can target, by moving much more rapidly.
The highway landing took place during Exercise Northern Strike, an annual Michigan National Guard-led exercise which brings together 4,700 military personnel from across the Joint Force and several Allied Nations, operating across the 148,000 acres of maneuver space and more than 17,000 square miles of special use airspace that make up the National All-Domain Warfighter Center and its two primary components, the Alpena CRTC and the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center.
The A-10 is primarily an air-to-ground attack aircraft that was specifically designed with austere landing capabilities in mind. In 2016, the 107th FS participated in the first highway landing since the end of the Cold War, at a highway location in Estonia as part of Exercise Saber Strike in Europe. The C-146 is a propeller-driven aircraft, primarily used for the delivery of Special Operations personnel and light cargo.
By MSgt Daniel Heaton, USAF, 127th Wing Public Affairs