AFSOC joins Michigan ANG, ACC in conducting historic highway landing

  • Published
  • By Capt. Alejandra Fontalvo
ALPENA, Michigan-- Air Force Special Operations Command units, including Special Tactics Airmen from the 24th Special Operations Wing, as well as C-146A Wolfhound aircraft assigned to the 492nd and 919th Special Operations Wings, participated in the first ever intentional landing of modern aircraft on a U.S. highway Aug. 5, 2021 near Alpena, Michigan.

The training event was conducted in conjunction with units from the Michigan Air National Guard as well as Air Combat Command. The joint effort helped to advance the Air Force’s agile combat employment tactics and better prepare forces for future operations.

“Today’s training is directly applicable to what we would do during a deployed scenario in either combat or peacetime operations,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jeff Falcone, the Special Tactics lead for the exercise. “We’re working on agile combat employment concepts, which basically makes the force more flexible, more maneuverable and creates challenges for our adversaries in different environments. It also increases the survivability of U.S. forces as we’re able to move around to more unpredictable locations to resupply, refuel or anything else we may need.”

To start the training event, a team of Special Tactics Airmen infiltrated, secured and controlled the airfield or in this case, the closed public highway. Special Tactics Airmen are a special operations ground force, experienced in conducting global access missions such as establishing austere landing zones around the world.  

“The training event would not be possible without our Special Tactics Airmen,” said Falcone. “Our Special Tactics are the critical team providing air ground communications including air traffic control, making sure the air assault zone is suitable for aircraft. We also have medical personnel embedded in our Special Tactics team, which provides an additional capability not only for protection of our team, but also for the other forces and anyone else in the area.” 

Once the airfield was ready, the ST Airmen on the ground called in the first A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to the 127th Wing, Michigan Air National Guard followed by the C-146A Wolfhound. 

“The main mission of the C-146 is rapid responsive air mobility,” said the lead C-146 pilot for the exercise and aircraft commander assigned to the 492nd Special Operations Wing. “Our users are primarily special operations forces, but we can move other members around from the Department of Defense, other government agencies as well as host nationals. The type of aircraft we have in our mission set is ideal to work with the Special Tactics Airmen to make this effort come to fruition. Without our ability to infiltrate we wouldn’t be able to operate the A-10s from that austere location.” 

The exercise team successfully landed six aircraft across four wings, demonstrating the units’ ability to maintain interoperability as well as AFSOC’s commitment to serving as enablers to the total joint force.

“We really would not be doing any of this without AFSOC support,” said Lt. Col. Brian Wyrzykowski, the mission commander and a KC-135 pilot assigned to the 127th Wing, Michigan Air National Guard. “This has been done overseas on roads that were made for aircraft, but this road was not made for aircraft. This really represents a new capability for the Department of Defense being able to operate off of a true highway.” 

The historic event serves as a proof of concept, demonstrating that AFSOC, the Air Force and allies are not constrained to traditional runways and are ready to answer the call anytime, anywhere. 

“Today’s exercise not only helps the United States but also our allies and partners around the world,” said Falcone. “We are moving fast trying to advance concepts, gain increased capability to make sure the United States Air Force, the United States military and our nation as a whole is ready for whatever challenges our adversaries may present to us in the future.”