A Boeing 747 that was mistakenly landed at a small Kansas airport has taken off heading for its original destination — a nearby Air Force base with a longer runway for the huge craft.
Boeing's 747 Dreamlifter landed Wednesday evening at Col. James Jabara Airport, about 8 miles north of its intended target, McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. Jabara's runway is 6,100 feet long, shorter than is ideal for an aircraft of that size.
Investigators don't know yet why the jet landed at Jabara. The two-person crew was not injured and neither the plane nor Jabara's airport property was damaged.
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Atlas has arranged to get a tug to the plane to tow it into the proper position and brought in a new crew to fly the plane, Valerie Wise, a spokeswoman for the Wichita Airport Authority, said in a telephone interview.
“The engineers have been running calculations all night long to make sure it’s safe to take off,” Wise said. “The Dreamlifter has taken up a pretty good chunk of the runway.”
The Boeing Co. Dreamlifter, a 747-400 modified with an expanded fuselage body, touched down safely at 9:44 p.m. local time yesterday at Jabara Airport, a municipal strip without a control tower, rather than at McConnell Air Force Base 9 miles away, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency is investigating how it happened.
Jabara’s single runway is 6,100 feet long compared to the 12,000-foot runways at McConnell, according to the airport- information website Airnav.com.
A 6,100-foot runway, while more suited to small and mid- sized jets, should be long enough for the Atlas plane to lift off with minimal fuel and no cargo, said David Esser, a professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach, Florida, campus. A fully loaded 747 would need a longer runway than Jabara’s, Esser said.
Bonnie Rodney, a spokeswoman for Atlas, didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The Dreamlifter, which is capable of weighing as much as 800,000 pounds (363,000 kilograms), was designed to carry large cargo such as components for the Boeing 787, according to a company fact sheet.
Cockpit instruments and navigation devices should have made it clear to the pilots they were at the wrong airport, Esser said.
Sometimes pilots may be led astray by what is known as an “expectancy error,” he said. In this case, both airports have runways running in the same direction.
“In their minds, they are thinking our airport has a north-south runway, and there is a north-south runway,” he said. “So, therefore, that must be our airport.”
Because Jabara doesn’t have a control tower, arriving and departing planes would have to announce their maneuvers over a common radio frequency. Pilots flying into uncontrolled airports are on their own to watch for traffic.
“We are working to determine next steps and expect to have additional information” later today, said Marc Birtel, spokesman for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
While unusual, airline crews occasionally make similar mistakes. In 2009, a Delta Air Lines Inc. Northwest flight overshot the Minneapolis airport after the pilots became distracted while working on their company-issued laptops, according to the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
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