How a Boeing 747 Dreamlifter once landed at the wrong airport

  • 787-8 Dreamliner


    Promotion code:

    Date of establishment:

    General Director:
    Dave Calhoun

    Headquarters location:
    Chicago, USA

    Main product lines:
    Boeing 737, Boeing 747, Boeing 757, Boeing 767, Boeing 777, Boeing 787

    Business Type:

From time to time we hear about planes landing at the wrong airport. With all the facilities available to pilots today, this is usually a rare occurrence. When this happens, there is usually no harm except for a slight delay for the passengers on board. However, when it’s something as large as the Dreamlifter and it just landed at a general aviation airport, the consequences are somewhat more serious.

An unexpected guest

For augists around the world, identifying the manufacturers’ heavy transport aircraft is a life’s goal. Boeing Dreamlifters and Airbus Belugas attract attention wherever they go, prompting hopeful fans to snap a photo of the giants. But for residents near a small Kansas airport in 2013, the Dreamlifter got too close for comfort.


A huge plane flew from New York JFK to McConnell Air Force Base, located about four miles southeast of Wichita, Kansas, in November 2013. Atlas Air, Dreamlifter departed at 13:16 local time for a short trip to McConnell. However, the plane did not land there, but instead landed about eight nautical miles away at Colonel James Jabari Airport.

The Dreamlifter was somewhat out of place at a general aviation facility. Photo: Getty Images

Jabara Airport is a small public airfield that is mostly used by general aviation. Indeed, he certainly wasn’t used to welcoming in something as big as the Dreamlifter. So his impromptu landing was a big shock.

Be aware of: Register for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

“We just landed at another airport”

According to APOA, at the time of the error, ATC communications confirmed that the Dreamlifter was on approach to Runway 19L at McConnell by RNAV (GPS). After landing clearance, the tower advised the crew to wait for a turn on Taxiway Delta. The answer of the pilots was “Giant 14…4241 we can, we must get back to you instantly, we are not on your approach.”

The controller responded to this “Giant 4241 Heavy, McConnell is nine miles south of you.” The coin of the day fell on the surprised pilots, who, realizing their mistake, reported that they had “jjust landed at another airport.”

The Dreamlifter came about because of the logistical problems of the 787 program. Photo: Getty Images

The airline is always full of new developments! What aviation news are you coming out next?

For a while, the pilots thought they were at BEC – nearby Wichita Beech Field Airport. It took several minutes of checking and talking to someone on site before they realized the extent of their mistake.

The Jabara’s runway length is just over 6,000 feet, about half the 19L McConnell’s length of over 12,000 feet. As such, its concrete structure is not designed for the weight of an aircraft such as the 747. As such, the facility was forced to close for several hours to inspect for damage.

Of course, that was only the first part of the problem. According to PrivateFly, the optimal runway length for the 747 is 9,199 feet. Fortunately, after many technical calculations, the Dreamlifter was able to take off without incident and redirect to McConnell, bringing the story to a safe conclusion.

Why did this happen?

Following the incident, Atlas Air conducted an internal investigation into the cause of the error. AIN reported the results of the investigation, which revealed some important factors that explain why the error occurred.

The two airports are very close to each other. image:

According to a crew training video seen by AIN, Atlas Air said some intermittent problems with the first officer’s in-flight display caused the pilots to question the reliability of the automation system. While programming the GPS approach to Runway 19L at McConnell, the pilot felt they were climbing too high.

The pilot noted that in previous flights, due to the VFR approach, his aircraft was at a higher altitude than expected. Believing that the equipment was giving an error, he disengaged the autopilot for an instrument approach.

The main mistake on the part of the pilots was that the pair had not been briefed on other airports in the area or on the 19L approach lighting system, which would have helped them check that they had landed in the right place. According to the pilots, during the initial approach, the pilot-in-command saw a brightly lit runway to the left, which he believed to be the one he was aiming for.

The investigation found that several factors contributed to the improper landing. Photo: Boeing

However, the pilots are not the only ones to blame. Indeed, noticing the runway to his left, the pilot turned off the automatic systems and began a manual approach to the airport. At this stage, the air traffic control tower should have noticed the deviation and subsequently alerted the pilots of the error.

To prevent a similar situation from happening again, Atlas Air has introduced a rule that pilots must remain on the instrument approach, even when visibility is good, until they have passed the final approach point.

Similar situations

Although this is a rare occurrence, this is not the only case where a plane has landed at the wrong airport. Indeed, Simple Flying has explored various other case studies of this phenomenon, which you can read more about at the links below.

What do you make of this case study? Have you ever been on a flight that didn’t arrive where you expected? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Sources: AIN, AOPA, PrivateFly

https://simpleflying.com/boeing-747-dreamlifter-wrong-airport/ How a Boeing 747 Dreamlifter once landed at the wrong airport

Back to top button