U.S. warplanes make historic Michigan road trip


U.S. warplanes have made history on a highway.

Four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs touched down August 5, 2021, on a closed portion of Michigan State Highway M-32 as part of a training event called Thunder LZ.

“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,” Col. James Rossi said in a statement from the Michigan Air National Guard (MI ANG), according to The Detroit News newspaper.

Two MI ANG pilots from the 127th Wing operated alongside two pilots from the U.S. Air Force’s 354th Fighter Squadron from Arizona to conduct the landings and takeoffs of the A-10s, a close air-support warplane known as the “Warthog.” Two C-146 “Wolfhound” transports from the Air Force Special Operations Command in Florida also took part in the drill.

Thunder LZ was part of a large-scale multicomponent readiness exercise called Northern Strike, which was held across Northern Michigan from July 31 to August 14.

The aircraft landed on a “less than one-mile stretch of Highway 32 outside of Alpena,” Col. Matt Robins, commander of the MI ANG’s 127th Operations Group, told Military Times in an August 5 story. “Today was our opportunity to put into practice” the pilots’ training, Robins said.  “To engage in agile combat employment [ACE] as part of exercise Northern Strike.”

The Michigan National Guard began hosting the exercise in 2012. However, the aircraft landings in what the Air Force calls an “austere environment” were new to this year’s iteration, Northern Strike 21-2, according to Military Times.

ACE calls for the Air Force to be able to “launch, recover and maintain planes away from its main air bases and instead at unorthodox locations,” Defense News said in a February 10, 2020, story. ACE aligns with the “Accelerate Change or Lose” strategic approach released in August 2020 by U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. that includes a call for testing and proving innovative tactics as the U.S. military focus shifts to near-peer competition.

“This proof of concept proves that we can land on any highway and continue to operate,” Capt. John Renner, flight commander of the 354th Fighter Squadron and one of the pilots who landed on the highway, said in an Air Force news release.

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

The Michigan Air National Guard has previous experience on roadways but outside the U.S. In 2018, A-10s conducted such landings in Estonia as part of a multinational exercise.

That may be why the Michigan State Police posted a photo on its social media August 5 of a Warthog lifting off from the tree-lined highway during Thunder LZ.

The caption read: “No speeding citations were issued during the exercise.”