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It's Still Unclear How This Giant Airplane Ended Up at the Wrong (and Tiny) Airport


“It’s a good thing we don’t have tall buildings."

WICHITA, Kan. (TheBlaze/AP) — A jumbo jet that landed at the wrong airport Wednesday evening and was potentially stuck there due to its size is set to take off around 1 p.m. ET Thursday.

But it's still rather unclear just how the pilots of a Boeing 747 Dreamlifter landed at Col. James Jabara Airport instead of its intended target -- the McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita -- about eight miles away. Jabara's runway is just 6,101 feet long, much shorter than is ideal for an aircraft of that size.

dreamlifter A Boeing 747 LCF Dreamlifter sits on the runway after accidentally landing at Jabara airport in Wichita, Kan., Wednesday night Nov. 20, 2013, thinking it was landing at McConnell Air Force Base. (AP/Wichita Eagle)

Roger Xanders, chief of the Wichita Airport Authority's police and fire department, told KMBC-TV that nonetheless the plane should be able to take off around noon Thursday. The plane, operated by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, has been turned around by a tug to prepare for departure, said Brad Christopher of the Wichita Airport Authority.

"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," Christopher said.

“It’s a good thing we don’t have tall buildings. The vertical lift is not that fast on that plane," R.J. Martin, a former pilot who helped design Denver International Airport, told The Wichita Eagle.

Atlas Air spokeswoman Bonnie Rodney did not immediately return early Thursday calls and an email from The Associated Press seeking comment. Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said he could not immediately provide any information on how or why the jumbo jet landed at Jabara.

The Wichita Eagle reported McConnell spokesman Stefan Bocchino saying Thursday that the pilots had been in contact with the air force base's tower control before landing.

“The tower was in contact with the pilot,” Bocchino told the newspaper. "They were the ones who told him where he landed. From what I understand, the guy just landed and had no clue where he was landing.”

The two-person crew was not injured and the airplane and airport property were not damaged, Christopher said.

Watch this report from KAKE-TV about the situation:

The modified 747, one of a fleet of four that hauls parts around the world for the production of the Dreamliner, was bound for McConnell because it is adjacent to Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems, Birtel said. Spirit makes the forward section or nose area of the Dreamliner's fuselage.

These jets, which the company refers to as Dreamlifters, are crucial to the Dreamliner's construction. Boeing is using a global network of suppliers to develop and build most of the new plane's parts in locations as far away as Germany, Japan and Sweden. Boeing says the Dreamlifter cuts delivery time down to one day from as many as 30 days.

The final aircraft is assembled at plants outside Seattle and in North Charleston, S.C.

It is not the first incident of a large aircraft landing at an airport ill equipped to accommodate a plane of that size.

In July last year, a cargo plane bound for MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Fla., 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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