The USAF is conducting take-offs and landings from US highways for the first time in decades. The aircrafts involved in the drill are the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II and C-146A Wolfhound, which are used heavily during special operations.
We can safely assume that most pilots would prefer to take off and land on clean, straight runways of their airbases. Unfortunately, during wartime, a runway and the base will likely be heavily targeted, rendering them useless for a while. It would also render billions of dollars worth of equipment useless. That is why pilots need to be able to land and take off from other surfaces, such as fields, roads, and highways.
The Michigan Air National Guard will perform the drills on a length of the Michigan State Highway M-32 near Alpena. The road will be closed for five hours while the aircraft are in action.
While the US has previously conducted similar drills abroad. This time, the A-10 Warthogs accompanied by the C-146A wolfhounds will take off from a highway on U.S. soil, which is somewhat of a rare occurrence. The operation comes as part of the Exercise Northern Strike, which is “one of the National Guard’s largest joint, readiness producing exercises.
While some people may imagine the process as straightforward as clearing the road of cars and the pilots just landing and taking off one after the other, it is not as simple as that. The road and the adjustment areas need to be prepared, and appropriate safety measures should be taken first. Homes near the highway will temporarily have their electric supply blocked, and the road itself will receive preparation before the operation begins. While the extent of these preparations is not very clear, it can be assumed that it includes redirection of traffic, placement of appropriate road signs, etc.
The A-10 is a very capable aircraft for executing such “unorthodox” tasks. Designed during the cold war, it had features that would make it operational on the remote roads of the European countries which bordered the countries of the Warsaw Pact. The aircraft can land and take off from relatively short landing surfaces. The C-146A is also a seasoned veteran when it comes to landing on non-ideal surfaces.