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127th Wing leads way in historic highway landing

A photo of an A-10 landing on a highway

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II lands on a Michigan State Highway in Alpena, Michigan, Aug. 5, 2021. Two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 354th Fighter Squadron and two A-10s from the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing landed on a state highway as part of Northern Strike 21, a large-scale training exercise. This is the first time in history that the Air Force has purposely landed modern aircraft on a civilian roadway in the U.S. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex M. Miller)

A photo of an A-10 landing on a highway

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II lands on a Michigan State Highway in Alpena, Michigan, Aug. 5, 2021. Two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 354th Fighter Squadron and two A-10s from the Michigan Air National Guard’s 127th Wing landed on a state highway as part of Northern Strike 21, a large-scale training exercise. This is the first time in history that the Air Force has purposely landed modern aircraft on a civilian roadway in the U.S. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex M. Miller)

ALPENA, MICH. -- Members of the Michigan National Guard’s 127th Wing, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, made history today when they successfully landed and generated modern military aircraft from a United States highway for the first time. 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, Duke Field, Florida, executed the mission, landing the aircraft on a closed portion of Michigan State Highway M-32 here, as part of a training event named “Thunder Landing Zone (LZ).” 

“Thunder LZ gave the pilots the opportunity to land in an austere environment that they’re not used to,” said U.S. Air Force 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.” 

Held as part of the Michigan National Guard’s annual joint forces, multicomponent, multinational military  training event, Exercise Northern Strike 21-2, the landing took place within the National All Domain Warfighting  Center, an area of airspace, ranges and bases geographically located in northern Michigan, where all-domain  training occurs in a joint environment.  

From the local utility companies to municipal emergency management agencies, Michigan Department of Transportation, and even residents, the local community played a key role in the training event. 

“We actually met with those homeowners directly and the level of support we received from the direct interactions has been, in my mind, unprecedented,” said Col. Jim Rossi, commander, Alpena CRTC. “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 made the first call to initiate the planning process a year ago. After all the planning and coordination, all six aircraft successfully landing and departing from M-32 was the most basic metric of mission success. For leaders of the 127th Wing and the Michigan National Guard, staying ready to fight while being progressive will continue to be one of their top priorities. 

“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.”

Planned in line with the Air Force’s agile combat employment (ACE) concept, Thunder LZ was established on a four-lane stretch of M-32 approximately three miles west of the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center (CRTC), giving participating units the chance 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, and then generating the aircraft back into the fight.

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