There’s a long-standing and widely-believed myth here in the United States that one in every five miles of the Interstate Highway System is straight. The false reasoning behind the myth is that the roadway could be used as aircraft runways by the U.S. Armed Forces to defend the country in the event of an invasion by a foreign power. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has fervently continuously denied and debunked the myth.
For example, the FHWA published an article about the myth in a 2000 issue of Public Roads, the agency’s in-house quarterly magazine. The piece was written by Richard F. Weingroff, the agency’s unofficial historian and a U.S. Air Force veteran. Weingroff spent most of the article exploring the myth’s misunderstood origin. He concluded by writing, “No law, regulation, policy, or sliver of red tape requires that one out of five miles of the Interstate Highway System must be straight. Trust me on that. Please!” This isn’t quite the case in other parts of the world, like Finland.
This week, Finland has closed a 2.8-mile section of a major highway for the Finnish Air Force to conduct training exercises on the roadway. Two hundred staff, the service’s F/A-18 Hornet fighters, Hawk Mk 51 trainers and several other aircraft are taking part in the drills. The exercises comprised preparing the highway for flight operations, practicing take-offs, landings, and servicing aircraft, including hot refueling. Hot refueling refers to refueling an aircraft with its engines running.
Colonel Vesa Mantyla, the commandant of the Finnish Air Force Academy, told Reuters, “Mainly I believe all the roadbases are in quite good condition so easily taken into the operations in a couple of days.” This highway segment and several others across Finland were actually designed to be used as reserve runways for national defense. It is estimated that 7,000 drivers will have to take an hour-long detour around the military exercises.
The reason these highway drills were deemed necessary shouldn’t be overlooked. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened tension across Eastern Europe. Finland and Sweden have applied for membership in NATO, and even the region’s existing NATO members fear that they might be the Russian military’s next target. I wouldn’t call myself a pacifist, but an armed military conflict is horrific for everyone involved and should be considered an absolute last resort. However, it is vital that a country’s military to show that it is capable of defending itself as a deterrent against foreign aggression. The best war is the war that is never fought.