Aviation News

November 21, 2013

Boeing Dreamlifter Lands at Wrong Airport; Can It Leave?

Photo by John Musolino

UPDATE: The Dreamlifter aircraft made it back into the air successfully, departing the airport earlier this afternoon.

Many people in the aviation world woke up this morning surprised to learn that a Boeing 747 landed at the wrong airport overnight, one from which it may be unable to depart from. And this wasn’t just any 747, but one of the specially modified Boeing 747-LCF Dreamlifters.

Atlas Air has been operating the Dreamlifters on behalf of Boeing since March of 2010, and Wednesday night Flight 4241 (callsign “Giant”) departed New York’s JFK Airport with the intended destination of McConnell Air Force Base (IAB) in Wichita, Kansas. But instead of landing on McConnell’s 12,000ft runway, the behemoth of an airplane came to a stop 8 miles away at the end of a much smaller strip at Jabara Airport (AAO).

There are three airports within approximately 8 miles of each other, all with similar runway alignments. (North is to the right) Image courtesy Google.

There are three airports within approximately 8 miles of each other, all with similar runway alignments. (North is to the right) Image courtesy Google.

The aircraft sat still at the end of the 6,101ft runway, spending several minutes speaking to Air Traffic Control just trying to determine which airport they were indeed at. Initially, the flight crew believed that they had landed at the Beech Factory Airport (BEC) which is also in the area. The issue then became how to move the aircraft around in such tiny quarters. To help, an aircraft tug was sent from McConnell to Jabara, but its arrival was delayed because it had broken down enroute.

Other sites have reported that the aircraft will need almost 10,000ft of runway to depart, but that is misleading because that number is based on maximum takeoff weight. Fully stripped down of cargo and fuel, the Dreamlifter weighs about 398,000 pounds. Add to it the pilots and a little bit of gas and we suspect that the runway length will be just enough to allow them to depart with a rotation speed of about 110kts.

Aside from runway length, there is concern for whether or not the runway is damaged. There is a real chance of there being buckling in the pavement where the aircraft touched down since the airport was not built for an aircraft of that size and weight. This could play a larger problem in their plan to takeoff upon the arrival of the crew late Thursday morning.

This is the type of incident which, though not common, was a bit more frequent in decades past in aircraft without moving-map GPS displays on visual approaches. There is no word yet on what caused the confusion that led to this mistake.

About the Author

Phil Derner Jr.
Phil Derner founded NYCAviation in 2003. A lifetime aviation enthusiast that grew up across the water from La Guardia Airport, Phil has aviation experience as a Loadmaster, Operations Controller and Flight Dispatcher. He owns and operates NYCAviation and performs duties as an aviation expert through writing, consulting, public speaking and media appearances. You can reach him by email or follow him on Twitter.



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