ALPENA, Mich. – Members of the Michigan National Guard's 127th Wing made history Aug. 5, successfully landing modern military aircraft on an American highway and then taking off.
Two A-10 Thunderbolt II pilots of the 127th Wing, two A-10 pilots of the 355th Wing, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and six C-146 Wolfhounds aircrew members from the Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida, executed the mission, landing aircraft on a closed portion of Michigan State Highway M-32 as part of the Thunder LZ training event.
"Thunder LZ gave the pilots the opportunity to land in an austere environment that they're not used to," said Lt. Col. Brian Wyrzykowski, the mission commander for Thunder LZ and a KC-135 Stratotanker instructor-pilot at the 127th Wing. "But it's also a first in the nation, as this is the first time that modern combat aircraft have landed on U.S. soil, on a highway."
Planned in line with the Air Force's agile combat employment concept, Thunder LZ was established on a four-lane stretch of M-32 approximately three miles west of the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, allowing units to practice posturing forces in a combat scenario.
"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," Wyrzykowski said.
Thunder LZ allowed training participants to practice the forward-arming and refueling concept of ACE, taking a small aircraft crew, returning the aircraft to these austere locations, then generating the aircraft back into the fight.
Held as part of the Michigan National Guard's annual multinational Northern Strike exercise, the landing took place in the national all-domain warfighting center, an area of airspace, ranges and bases in northern Michigan where all-domain training occurs in a joint environment.
The community – utility companies, emergency management agencies, the Michigan Department of Transportation and residents – played a key role in the event.
"We actually met with those homeowners directly and the level of support we received from those direct interactions has been, in my mind, unprecedented," said Col. Jim Rossi, commander, Alpena CRTC here. "They're such a patriotic group of Americans that are up here, willing to support and are as excited as we are to make this happen."
Wyrzykowski initiated the planning process a year ago. All six aircraft successfully landing and departing from M-32 was the most basic metric of mission success.
"This historic training event is very important for the Michigan National Guard," Wyrzykowski said. "We are making sure we are ready for the high-end fight against a near-peer adversary."