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WITH VIDEO: First-ever military exercise turns M-32 into runway

News Photo by Julie Riddle A C-146 Wolfhound cargo plane taxis on M-32 on Thursday during the first-known attempt at landing modern military aircraft on a U.S. highway.

ALPENA — Onlookers wielding cell phones gawked and recorded video as a Northeast Michigan road became a part of military history on Thursday.

A crowd of over 100 military members, emergency personnel, local government leaders, and other VIPs gathered at the intersection of M-32 and Herron Road west of the Alpena County Regional Airport as, for the first time in history, modern military aircraft intentionally landed on a civilian highway on American soil.

Phones and cameras held aloft, audience members craned their necks as four A-10 Thunderbolt II attack jets and two C-146 Wolfhound cargo planes appeared, one at a time, approaching from the east.

The aircraft touched down on M-32 and slowed to a stop, turning on a dime at the Herron Road intersection and, after a pause for engines to cool down, took off again toward the east, wingtips hovering over the road’s edge.

The exercise — part of the Northern Strike military exercise taking place at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center through Aug. 14. — demonstrated pilot and aircraft readiness to perform such maneuvers if they are ever needed during military action overseas, according to Col. Matt Robins, commander of the Michigan Air National Guard 127th operations group.

News Photo by Julie Riddle A military photographer captures the landing of an A-10 Thunderbolt II on M-32 west of Alpena on Thursday morning.

Check out the video below. Viewing on mobile? Turn your device horizontally for the best viewing experience. Story continues below the video.

Thursday’s exercise shows that the military can operate even if attacked on their own air base overseas by an adversary with military might equal to that of the U.S., Robins said.

“If there’s stuff coming in from the big, bad guys and it hits the base, that’s fine,” Robins said. “We’re going to come out to the highway and fight back.”

Local drivers who gave up use of M-32 for a few hours helped the Air Force to be ready for tomorrow’s wars, Robins said.

Thursday’s exercise included the A-10 Thunderbolt II, an attack jet capable of firing foot-long bullets at 90 rounds per second.

News Photo by Julie Riddle An A-10 Thunderbolt prepares to take off on M-32 west of Alpena on Thursday.

The jet, used to defend ground forces, usually sends the enemy running before even firing a shot, a military member said.

The cargo- and human-transporting C-146 Wolfhounds — a military version of a commuter airplane — loomed large and loud on the Alpena road, their roar upon takeoff filling the ears of onlookers.

The exercise seemed to go without a hitch, with only a slight slowdown after the last landing of the day, when a crew member opened the rear door of a C-146 and dangled his head and shoulders for a better look at the road before the large airplane spun into takeoff position.

Dignitaries invited to the event included multiple state legislators and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who captured the event on his cell phone along with the rest of the observers. A few lucky residents in folding chairs enjoyed an up-close view of the action from the front lawn of the lone house within the landing zone.

High-fives and handshakes on the roadside followed the final takeoff, and, within minutes, workers began restringing electrical wires taken down to allow the mild-mannered Northeast Michigan road to take its place in history.

News Photo by Julie Riddle As a bystander snaps a photo, a C-146 Wolfhound cargo plane taxis on M-32 on Thursday.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, jriddle@thealpenanews.com or on Twitter @jriddleX.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Military personnel look on as the pilot of an A-10 Thunderbolt II prepares to take off on M-32 near Alpena on Thursday.

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