Would Military Aircraft Be Able To Use U.S. Interstates As Emergency Runways?

There’s a longstanding rumor that United States highways were purposely built to double as runways for planes (particularly military planes) in need of a spot to land in an emergency.

The truth is although they could potentially work (if you’re not worried about casualties on the ground), there are a ton of better options.

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No one is sure where the rumors originated, but the idea seems to stem from legislation that was passed in the 1940s. There have always been arguments on both sides, like the common sense need for emergency runways and the fact that there are many highways too hilly or small to work for military aircraft.

Not to mention the fact that, at any given day and time, people are driving on said highways.

There are purported answers, such as that the whole road isn’t necessary, because every 1 mile out of 5 is all that’s required to account for turns, elevation changes, and population.

The legislation actually exists, too – the Defense of Highway Act of 1941, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, and the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 – though none of them contain any language about emergency runways or the 1-in-5-mile rule, either.

The Defense Highway Act provided flight strips near highways and the Federal-Aid Highway Act came comes to adding a flight strip program but ultimately did not.

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In reality, the strategy really isn’t practical since there’s no way local law enforcement would have time to close off a highway in time if the plane was having a true emergency – one that wouldn’t allow them to divert to the nearest actual runway.

Plans for emergency landings instead include municipal and private airports, military bases, and other small and little-known runways that could serve in tight spots.

There are airports everywhere these days, so it makes sense that an actual runway would be the better and safer option for everyone involved.

So you can go back to worrying about Karen trying to check her bank account balance on her way to drop-off instead of being crushed by a jet in need of an emergency landing strip.

One of those things is much likelier than the other.