Boeing 747 Dreamlifter Lands at Wrong Airport in Giant Blunder

Photo courtesy of Joseph Graybill

A Boeing 747 Dreamlifter bound for McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas mistakenly landed at Jabara Airport near Wichita on Wednesday after a flight from New York’s JFK. If that error wasn’t bad enough, the massive cargo plane was stuck there and forced the airport to close until it could take off this afternoon.

According to the incredible ATC recording of the episode, the pilots of the 747 didn’t know what airport they had landed at even after several uncomfortable minutes communicating with McConnell controllers. At least one other airplane, a light twin, aborted its approach into Jabara as the Dreamlifter sat on the field’s single, 6,100-foot runway in the darkness.

The recording starts with “Giant 4241,” the 747’s callsign, reporting it is established on the Rnav GPS approach to McConnell’s Runway 19L. A McConnell controller clears the 747 to land, which is met with the unusual response that the airplane is already “wheels down” at McConnell (KIAB).

From there the situation only became stranger.

“Uh, we just landed at the other airport,” the pilot tells the controller, not specifying which airport. “Apparently we’ve landed at BEC,” he says, giving the identifier for nearby Wichita Beech Field. It takes the 747 crew several more minutes, during which they apparently speak to someone on the ground at Jabara Airport (KAAO), to determine their actual position.

“Giant 4241, verify you are on the ground at Beech Airport,” the controller says.

“We think so,” the unidentified Dreamlifter pilot replies. For what seems like an eternity, the pilot and controller exchange lat/long coordinates to finally determine the landing had been made at Jabara. “We’ve got a gentleman outside the aircraft now … this gentleman has given us the [Unicom] frequency and we’re going to try it now.”

Jabara Airport is about 7 nm north of McConnell along the approach path for Runway 19 and has a similarly aligned Runway 18. The Dreamlifter is a high-capacity version of the 747-400 introduced in 2005. It has a maximum takeoff weight of greater than 800,000 pounds. It has a wingspan of 211 feet and is 235 feet long. It is, according to Boeing, the largest cargo carrying airplane in the world by available cargo volume.

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