Bold F/A-18s take off and land on a snowy road in winter mission

Greetings from Finland, where the renowned 2024 Air Force exercise, Hanki 24, has taken place, concluding on February 2nd. The exercise featured active involvement from the Air Force Academy’s reservists and the Lapland Air Command. Adding up the participants, we saw approximately 3,800 personnel, with an impressive 2,300 reservists actively engaged in the thrilling exercise. 

Bold F/A-18s take off and land on a snowy road on winter mission
Video screenshot

The primary objective of this large-scale exercise was to test the Finnish Air Force’s combat capabilities. But, there was an intriguing twist! This year, the Finns also experimented with the F/A-18’s unique ability to take off from a highway under heavy snowfall. The F/A-18 has performed take-offs from civilian roads in the past, but doing so in icy, winter conditions is indeed a rarity. 

Reports from local observers indicate that at least three F/A-18s from the Finnish Air Force carried out the challenging feat of taking off, soaring across the icy sky, and landing safely on roads under snowy, winter conditions. The internet is filled with videos capturing the fighter jets preparing for takeoff amidst the wintry conditions. What you’ll see is a clear road under freezing temperatures with large piles of snow flanking both sides of the testing road. Interestingly, this is not a highway but likely a high-priority road.

Why can the F/A-18 do it?

What makes the F/A-18 capable of landing in testing conditions, such as on civilian roads? It’s primarily due to its efficient design and lightweight construction, which allows it to gracefully navigate spaces that bulkier aircraft might struggle with. 

What provides it this advantage, you wonder? It all boils down to its extraordinary thrust-to-weight ratio. In essence, the F/A-18 generates an enormous amount of power, despite its relatively lightweight. This power-to-weight superiority enables shorter take-offs and landings, making operations on civilian roads possible. 

We cannot overlook the sturdy construction of the F/A-18’s landing gear. It’s designed to absorb the impact of demanding carrier landings, rendering it adaptable for any surface – even the unpredictable conditions of civil roads.

E75

Insights gleaned from a photographic source confirm that Finnish pilots certainly put their fighters through rigorous testing on European road E75. Think of E75 as a significant thread in the intricate weave of the European road network. It begins its journey at Vadsø, an inviting town tucked away in Norway, and stretches all the way down to Sitia, a picturesque spot on the Greek island of Crete. All in all, E75 covers a whopping 5639 km, earning its stripes as one of the longest and most central roads in Europe. 

For Finland, E75 takes on even greater significance. It’s the country’s backbone, extending from the southernmost tip to the very top of the north. The road touches upon a range of towns on its journey – the northernmost outpost of Utsjoki, followed by Inari, Ivalo, Sodankylä, and Rovaniemi. Further down, it sweeps through Kemi, stops at Oulu, passes Jyväskylä, and brushes by Heinola and Lahti, before finally curling up at Helsinki in the south.

Bold F/A-18s take off and land on a snowy road on winter mission
Photo credit: Telegram

Editor’s note

The F/A-18’s ability to launch and land on short runways, public roads, and highways highlights this American fighter’s versatile functionality in combat scenarios. Naturally, parallels are drawn to Ukraine’s pressing need for fighter jets. However, an intriguing detail caught my eye — Kyiv’s refusal of the Australian F/A-18s, branding them as “rubbish.” 

This rejection, albeit surprising, can make sense to a degree. Integration of the Australian F/A-18s would mean additional pilots and intensified training schedules. While the aircraft is competent, Ukrainian pilots are accustomed to the MiG-29. During wartime, swift access to familiar hardware is of utmost importance. 

That being said, the Ukrainian pilots also hadn’t flown the F-16, and Australia’s offer had been public knowledge for close to a year. Balancing these factors against the F/A-18’s road take-off capabilities, Kyiv’s reaction baffles many. 

It should be noted that the F-16 lacks some key features that the F/A-18 and Gripen encompass. The F-16 doesn’t provide Kyiv with the flexibility to distribute aircraft countrywide. It can only be deployed at specific airports, on designated runways, and accommodated within specially built concrete maintenance hangars. Dismissing the Australian F/A-18s as “rubbish” couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s dive deeper into the Australian Hornet’s capabilities.

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