Watch these A-10 attack aircraft make history by operating from a US highway for the first time

·4 min read
US A-10 aircraft landing on a highway in Estonia during exercise
A US A-10 aircraft landing on a highway in Estonia. The US military has conducted these types of landings abroad, but this is the first time a modern aircraft has done so on US soil. NATO
  • A-10 attack aircraft practiced operating from a Michigan highway on Thursday.

  • The training is believed to be the first time modern aircraft have operated from highways on US soil.

  • US A-10 pilots have repeatedly carried out this type of training in Europe.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

A-10 attack aircraft landed on and took off from a US highway on Thursday in a first for modern Air Force planes.

Authorities closed off Michigan State Highway M-32 on Thursday for a training exercise in which the Michigan National Guard's 127th Wing, the Air Force's 355th Wing, and Air Force Special Operations Command practiced operating four A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft and two C-146A Wolfhound special operations transport planes from the roadway.

A US  Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II lands on a Michigan State Highway in Alpena, Michigan, Aug. 5, 2021
A US Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II lands on a Michigan State Highway in Alpena, Michigan, Aug. 5, 2021 US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex M. Miller

The training was part of the larger Exercise Northern Strike at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center.

"This is believed to be the first time in history that modern Air Force aircraft have intentionally landed on a civilian roadway on US soil," Air Force Col. James Rossi, commander of the NADWC's Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, said in a recent 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," he said.

The Michigan Department of Transportation, which helped to remove some power lines and road signs but did not make any modifications to the road during the planning for the exercise, released multiple videos of the training.

The Michigan State Police jokingly tweeted Thursday that "no speeding citations were issued during the exercise."

"This year's Northern Strike exercise includes testing the rapid insertion of an Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) into a bare-base environment," Brig. Gen. Bryan Teff, the Michigan Air National Guard adjutant general for air, said recently.

"They will establish logistics and communications in order to receive follow-on forces, generate mission employment including the austere landing on M-32, and project combat power across all domains," he added.

While the training made history in the US, it is not uncommon. In 2018, for example, the Michigan National Guard pilots practiced landing A-10s on highways in Estonia.

US A-10 aircraft landing on a highway in Estonia during exercise.
A US A-10 aircraft landing on a highway abroad during a past exercise. NATO

Other fighter wings have done the same in the Baltics.

During the Cold War, fixed-wing aircraft occasionally trained to operate from civilian airfields and highways in Europe as opposed to established airstrips more likely be targeted during a great power conflict.

The Michigan National Guard said in a recent statement that "dynamic exercises like the highway landing during Northern Strike demonstrates the Air Force's ability to deploy rapidly from anywhere, at any time, which is a critical edge the Air Force maintains over its adversaries."

Training to operate from a highway is linked to the Air Force's Agile Combat Employment (ACE) strategy, a National Guard spokesperson told Insider. The strategy looks in part at the dispersal of forces to traditional and non-traditional airstrips to make it harder for an adversary to eliminate a combat capability.

US Air Force pilots have also practiced operating from other austere runways. For instance, in 2019, A-10 pilots from the 190th Fighter Squadron practiced landing on a rough landing strip in the California desert.

Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt Warthog austere landing
An A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 190th Fighter Squadron of the Idaho Air National Guard makes an austere landing and takeoff on the Freedom Landing Strip at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin in California in 2019. US Army National Guard/Sgt. Mason Cutrer

Unlike some of the other aircraft in the US arsenal, the A-10, an aircraft built around a powerful 30-millimeter cannon for close air-support missions, is built for austere landings on nonstandard runways.

"This proof of concept proves that we can land on any highway and continue to operate," Capt. John Renner, a squadron flight commander and pilot who participated in Thursday's training said.

"The A-10 allows us to land a lot more places to get fuel, weapons and other armament so we can operate anywhere, anytime," he said, adding that "this will allow us to get away from using built-up bases that our adversaries can target by moving much more rapidly."

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