How does a modern aircraft land at the wrong airport? How will the dreamlifter take off again?

In news of the weird, Boeing’s Dreamlifter cargo plane landed at the wrong airport last night. The runway is reportedly too short for them to take off again in a loaded configuration, and depending on who you talk to, it may even be too short for it to take off in an unloaded configuration without major modifications.


The Dreamlifter is presumably fitted with a whole suite of modern navigational equipment and operated by some skilled, professional pilots. Can some pro pilots respond here and speculate on how these guys might have landed at an airport other than the one they thought they were at?

The Dreamlifter is an asset that cost Boeing hundreds of millions of dollars, so I’m sure they are prepared to spend a lot of money to get it off the ground again if there’s a way. If the runway is indeed too short for a takeoff even with no cargo and a very light fuel load (enough to get to the nearest airport), how might they do it? I’m assuming there’s not much equipment inside they can tear out (e.g. rows and rows of passenger seats). What’s left? Spend a few million dollars to extend the runway? JATO units? Auxiliary jet engines? Swallows?

[sub]African or European?[/sub]

Fill it up with helium balloons…

Would it cost that much to extend the starting part of the runway back a ways with just a layer of asphalt, and take off on a dry day when the ground is hard? Since it’s the starting part, the plane would be rolling more slowly, but could get some speed before it got on the real runway. They would know if they were going fast enough when they first got to the real runway, to know if they could take off or had to abort.

Maybe pick a day with a light, steady headwind, to give it more airspeed.

The last line of the article says that Boeing sent a “tow” to the airport (its arrival delayed by a breakdown.) Any idea what that’s about? Just standard equipment (at airports that USUALLY handle 747s) to help it move from one part of the airport to another – nothing to do with getting it out of there? Or maybe a joke? (Maybe I misread some reader’s joking comment as part of the actual article.)

ETA: A “tug,” not a tow! Is the airport next to a big river – a river that eventually passes next to a BIGGER airport??

Now, if they could just install a temporary treadmill…

Interesting thought. If you filled the entire 65,000-cubic-foot cargo capacity with helium, you’d add about 4,000 pounds of buoyancy. That doesn’t account for the weight of the bladders that would hold that helium, so the actual gain would be considerably less. The Dreamlifter weighs about 180,000 pounds empty, so relatively speaking, that’s not a real big gain; I would guess it wouldn’t improve acceleration or reduce the minimum takeoff speed enough to be useful by itself.

“Tug” is slang for a tow tractor. You had it right in the first part of you post. For giggles I checked Google Maps to see if they could tow the aircraft the 12 miles to McConnell AFB, like they towed the Space Shuttle through LA. Not happening. Too many freeway underpasses.

To add to the magnitude of my initial question (how did this happen), the Jabara airport runway has a heading of 180, and the McConnel AFB runway (where they intended to land) has a heading of 190. Can pilots here speculate on how that significant detail might have gone unnoticed by the Dreamlifter cockpit crew?

You didn’t happen to notice if there’s a 1.5 to 2 mile long section of road that they could use as a runway, did you? It would have to be flat, but as I understand it, flat is something Kansas does really well.

I think the article is being sensational. The runway is over 6000 feet long. The plane needs 9000 feet fully loaded. With minimum fuel and no cargo, I suspect it won’t have any trouble taking off. I bet there will be a lot of plane spotters at that airport when it does!

To me it looks like Jabara is almost exactly in line with the intended runway. I suppose they might have used navigation aids to get to the McConnell AFB landing approach, and then they spotted Jabara right in front of them and flew the last portion manually. The pilots must have figured out their mistake some time before actually landing though, and must have been in communication with the correct ATC tower…

Ah, thanks.

There is an ad campaign for a chain of opticians running here presently, which shows people doing silly things like mistaking a fur hat for a cat

This would be a perfect gift for them.

I wonder what will happen to the pilot?

OP linky no worky.

Here’s’s coverage:

The tow vehicle is being sent to help the plane get in position at the end of the runway so it can use the entire runway to take off. The plane will be able to take off on a minimal fuel load and possibly with some cargo unloading on the existing runway.

JATO bottles?

You’re talking about a 500 ton aircraft. If you parked it on a layer of asphalt over dirt it would sink.

<fx studiously blank look> What pilot? </fx>

I suspect he will be voted off of the show.

Oops, typo. 200 ton, not 500 ton.

I’ll add more in a few hours when I finish work, but 180 and 190 is a very insignificant difference when it comes to flying a visual approach. 180/190 goes a long way toward explaining how this happened. More later, gotta fly!