Shortly after 9:00 PM central time on Wednesday evening, a Boeing 747 DreamLifter landed at Colonel James Jabara Airport in Wichita, KS. Flight 4241 operated by Atlas Air from JFK was to have landed at McConnell Air Force Base but instead landed at the small public airport north/northeast of McConnell.
The problem is that the airport is much smaller than where the Dreamlifter typically lands.
The recording of the ATC conversation, which is hosted on Soundcloud, shows that the pilot is clearly distraught as he thought they landed to the south of the airport, at a Beech aircraft facility. The exchange between the Atlas pilot and McConnell tower continues for a few minutes prior to the realization that the DreamLifter landed at a third airport.
McConnell: “Giant 4241 heavy, do you you know which airport you’re at?”
Pilot: “Well, we think we have a pretty good pulse, uh, let me ask you this, how many airports directly to the south of 01R are there?”
McConnell: “Giant 4241 heavy, you’re currently NORTH of McConnell, and there are three along…”
Spirit AeroSystems is located at McConnell and manufactures components of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, specifically the forward section of the fuselage, wing components, and pylons. The Dreamlifter is a common sight at Spirit’s operations center in Wichita but has never landed at such a small airport.
The two airports are very close to one another and the runway bearings differ by just one degree (McConnell’s being 01 and James Jabara’s being 36). A striking difference, not shown in the above image, is that the single runway at James Jabara airport is a mere 6,101 ft long, whereas those at McConnell are just slightly less than double that at 12,000 ft each.
Local CBS news affiliate KWCH reports that a tug was sent from McConnell to James Jabara to assist in re-positioning. Chelsey Moran, a producer at KWCH tweeted that the tug broke down en-route but later confirmed it was able to arrive at James Jabara.
Events like this aren’t unprecedented. In fact there was a very similar occurrence in Florida just last year involving a USAF C-17 Globemaster III. The fatigued C-17 pilot mistakenly landed at the small Peter O. Knight airport just a few miles away from MacDill AFB. In that incident, the runway numbers (22) matched.
According to the Seattle Times, Brad Christopher of the Wichita Airport Authority stated, “We’ve been in contact with Atlas company headquarters in New York. They’ve assured us they’ve run all the engineering calculation and performance and the aircraft is very safe for a normal departure at its current weight and conditions here.”
At about 8:15am PDT, Boeing released the following statement about the incident:
A Dreamlifter bound for McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita landed inadvertently but safely yesterday evening at nearby Colonel James Jabara Airport instead. There were no injuries or damage to the airplane.
The airplane can take off from that runway and is in position to depart later today. From there, the plane will then land at McConnell Air Force base and unload, as planned.
Boeing contracts with Atlas Air to fly the airplane. We are working with Atlas Air to determine the circumstances.
After a bit of a delay, the Dreamlifter lifted off and landed a very short time later at its proper destination. Check out a video of the take off here.