Wings Magazine

Boeing’s Dreamlifter spends dream day at wrong airport

Nov. 22, 2013, Wichita, Kan. - A Boeing 747 jumbo jet spent hours at a tiny Kansas airport Thursday after landing on the wrong runway en route to a nearby Air Force base.

November 22, 2013  By The Associated Press

The “Dreamlifter” intended to touch down at McConnell Air Force Base
in Kansas, which is next to a company that makes large sections of the
787. Those sections are then hauled to Boeing plants for assembly.


Instead, the cargo flight landed 13 kilometres north, at the smaller Col. James Jabara Airport.



Boeing said it would unload its cargo at McConnell as planned.


Boeing owns the plane, but it’s operated by Atlas Air Worldwide
Holdings, a New York-based cargo-hauler that also provides crews or
planes to companies that need them.


Atlas assured Wichita aviation officials that the jet is “safe for a
normal departure at its current weight and conditions here,” said Brad
Christopher of the Wichita Airport Authority.


The plane landed in an area where there are three airports with
similar runway configurations: the Air Force base, the Jabara airfield
and a third facility in between called Beech Airport.


Atlas Air spokeswoman Bonnie Rodney declined to answer questions and referred inquiries to Boeing.


“We are working with Atlas Air to determine the circumstances,” Boeing said in a written statement.


The Federal Aviation Administration planned to investigate whether
the pilot followed air traffic controllers’ instructions or violated any
federal regulations.


The pilot sounds confused in his exchanges with air traffic control, according to audio provided by


“We just landed at the other airport,” the pilot says to controllers shortly after the landing.


Once the pilot says they’re at the wrong airport, two different
controllers jump in to confirm that the plane is safely on the ground
and fully stopped.


The pilot and controllers then go back and forth trying to figure out
which airport the plane is at. At one point, a controller reads to the
pilot the co-ordinates where he sees the plane on radar.


When the pilot
reads the co-ordinates back, he mixes up “east” and “west.”


“Sorry about that, couldn’t read my handwriting,” the pilot says.


A few moments later, the pilot says he thinks he knows where they
are. He then asks how many airports there are to the south of McConnell.
But the airports are north of McConnell.


“I’m sorry, I meant north,” the pilot says when corrected. “I’m sorry. I’m looking at something else.”


They finally agree on where the plane is after the pilot reports that
a smaller plane, visible on the radar of air traffic control, has just
flown overhead.


The modified 747 is one of a fleet of four that hauls parts around
the world to make Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The “Dreamlifter” is a
747-400 with its body expanded to hold whole fuselage sections and other
large parts. If a regular 747 with its bulbous double-decker nose looks
like a snake, the bulbous Dreamlifter looks like a snake that swallowed
a rat.


According to flight-tracking service FlightAware, this particular
DreamLifter has been transiting between Kansas and Italy, where the
centre fuselage section and part of the tail of the 787 are made.


McConnell is next to Spirit AeroSystems, which also does extensive
787 work. The nearly finished sections are then shipped to Boeing plants
in Everett, Washington, and North Charleston, South Carolina for
assembly into finished airplanes. Boeing is on track to make 10 of them
per month by the end of this year.


Because 787 sections are built all over the world — including wings
made in Japan — the Dreamlifters are crucial to the 787’s construction.
Boeing says the Dreamlifter cuts delivery time down to one day from as
many as 30 days.


Although rare, landings by large aircraft at smaller airports have happened from time to time.


In July last year, a cargo plane bound for MacDill Air Force base in
Tampa, Florida, landed without incident at the small Peter O. Knight
Airport nearby. An investigation blamed confusion identifying airports
in the area, and base officials introduced an updated landing procedure
to mitigate future problems.


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