It's Away! Cargo Jet That Landed At Wrong Airport Takes Off

Nov 21, 2013
Originally published on November 21, 2013 5:54 pm

Update at 2:17 p.m. ET. In The Air:

Moments ago a massive Boeing 747 "Dreamlifter" cargo jet that mistakenly landed at a small municipal airport late Wednesday took off with a roar from an airfield with a runway much shorter than a jet that size usually uses.

We were watching an NBC News webcast as the big jet took off.

According to the Wichita Eagle, "crews took fuel off the airplane to lighten its load, sources say, and with [a] light cargo load and current wind conditions, the plane [was] capable of taking off."

So the drama, which we described earlier, would seem to be over.

Our original post — "Taking Off Will Be Tricky After Jet Lands At Wrong Airport" — and earlier updates follow:

Before we all take our daily dose of "serious" news, there's this:

A Boeing Co. 747 Dreamlifter cargo jet landed at the wrong airfield in Wichita, Kan., on Wednesday night and is now sitting on a runway that's far shorter than those typically needed for takeoff.

It seems that the jet took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and was supposed to land at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. Dreamlifters are used by Boeing to haul parts for its aircraft.

But instead of touching down at McConnell, the jet landed at Colonel James Jabara Airport, a small municipal airfield about 10 miles from the Air Force base.

Wichita's KWCH-TV says a recording of the conversation between the pilots and controllers shows the jet was cleared to land at McConnell. But minutes later, one of the pilots can be heard saying, "Ahh .... we just landed at the other airport."

Fortunately, according to the city's official Twitter page, "no one [was] injured, no property damage."

But here's the problem:

"A Dreamlifter is supposed to need a runway 9,199 feet long to take off at maximum takeoff weight, and 7,000 feet to land at maximum landing weight," KWCH reports. "The runway length at Jabara is 6,101 feet."

The station says it's been told by emergency dispatchers that equipment is being brought to the scene to turn the Dreamlifter around and that "Boeing hopes to fly the plane out of Jabara." Presumably it would be emptied of any cargo to make liftoff easier.

We'll watch for news of how the problem is solved.

Update at 2 p.m. ET. Webcast:

NBC News is streaming a live feed from the airport. It looks like the pilots may be testing the engines.

Update at 1 p.m. ET. Takeoff Attempt Delayed:

Wichita's KAKE-TV now says "the Dreamlifter was scheduled to take off around noon [1 p.m. ET], but that will likely be delayed. No new time has been given."

Update at 7:45 a.m. ET: Kansas City's 41ActionNews reports the jet has been "turned 180 degrees ... will take off around noon [local time]."

Meanwhile, though we doubt Boeing could tow the jet the from Jabara over to McConnell, we've pulled together a Google Map and driving directions. Be aware, Boeing, "this route has tolls." Bring some change.

1. Head south on N Webb Rd toward E 34th St N 4.7 mi

2. Turn right onto E Kellogg Ave 0.1 mi

3. Take the ramp to I-35 S 0.5 mi

4. Keep right at the fork, follow signs for I-35 S/Wellington/Oklahoma City and merge onto I-35 S 4.7 mi

5. Take exit 45 toward KS-15 0.5 mi

6. Merge onto Turnpike Dr 0.2 mi

7. Turn left onto KS-15 S/Southeast Blvd 0.2 mi

8. Turn left onto E MacArthur Rd 0.8 mi

9. Turn left. Destination will be on the right

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It was a successfully, if a little tricky, takeoff this afternoon. A Boeing 747 Dreamlifter soared into the air from a runway that was about 3,000 feet too short.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWSCAST)

BLOCK: This was a big story in Wichita, Kansas, today. They covered it live on KWCH-TV channel 12. The Dreamlifter is a huge cargo jet that carries parts for Boeing planes. And somehow, this one had landed at the wrong airport last night in Wichita.

SIEGEL: It had been headed for McConnell Air Force Base.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Clear to land runway 191, left wheels down, Giant 4241, I mean.

SIEGEL: That's the crew calmly communicating with air traffic control about the routine landing, then confusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Giant 4241 Heavy, McConnell is nine miles south of you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Yes, sir. We just landed at the other airport.

BLOCK: We just landed at the other airport nine miles away. But which other airport were they talking about?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Do you have the coordinates for this - for the airport?

BLOCK: Do you have the coordinates for the airport? The crew and tower spent some time trying to figure that out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: It appears that you are at Jabara Airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Say the name of it again?

SIEGEL: They were at a small public airport named Jabara, just up the road from their intended destination. That was only half the trouble. The other half was they couldn't leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Tower, we're trying to assess our situation as far as clearing the runway at this time.

BLOCK: Clearing the runway which wasn't built for such a big, heavy plane. Well, given all the instrumentation on a modern aircraft, the obvious question is...

PATRICK SMITH: How could they possibly get in a situation like that? I don't know.

BLOCK: Boeing declined an interview, so we asked a pilot. Patrick Smith is author of the book "Cockpit Confidential."

SMITH: There are all sorts of checklists and procedures that we're using and verifying and cross-checking. It's extraordinarily unusual for something like this to happen, but it's obviously not beyond the realm of possibility.

SIEGEL: Not fair to judge without all the details, said Patrick Smith. And in a written statement, Boeing said they're working with Atlas Air, which operated the plane, to get that information. As for getting off the ground today...

SMITH: Six thousand feet, which was the runway length in this case, is very short for a 747. Under the right weight and weather conditions, it's not impossible to get the airplane off the ground.

BLOCK: And they did. They crunched the numbers overnight. And today, the Boeing cargo plane made the 19-minute flight with a fresh crew to the correct airport.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWSCAST) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.