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Canadian military tests landing planes on Dempster Highway

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic

People driving west out of Tsiigetchic, a community in Canada's Northwest Territories, might see an unusual sight this week -- Twin Otter planes landing on the Dempster Highway.

One of the planes will land on the highway every morning until Saturday. The exercise is part of the Canadian military's annual Operation Nanook, and it's meant to help them learn how to handle different situations in the North. One of those situations is landing in an area without an air strip.

"You never know what kind of scenario is going to come up where you have to respond to some situation," said Lt.-Col. Desmond Brophy, who is in charge of the 440 Squadron flying the planes. "There may be an airfield, there may not be. And where there isn't, that's where the Twin Otter's unique capabilities really resonate."

The planes are outfitted with special "tundra tires." Brophy said they are larger and softer than regular tires, so landing on the gravel highway isn't a problem.

The RCMP are blocking the highway just before the area where the planes are landing, but it's open to traffic the rest of the day.