While there's a lot of news being made today (Go Harry Reid!), there's one story sure to be on the evening news tonight and all over the cable channels. A Boeing 747, one of of four special cargo models landed at the wrong airport in Wichita, KS Wednesday evening. It's main runway is a bit shorter than they'd like for take off. Here's the relevant bits from the BBC story on this:
The giant cargo jet was heading for McConnell air force base in Wichita but instead touched down at nearby Colonel James Jabara airport.An attempt will be made to take off today at noon local time (1800 GMT), so keep an eye on the news crawl. I expect every TV station in the area will have camera crews waiting.
Airport officials believe the plane will be able to depart despite the much shorter runway at Jabara.
An attempt is scheduled for noon local time (18:00 GMT) on Thursday.
The aircraft normally needs a runway of 2,780m (9,119ft) to get airborne at maximum weight; Jabara's runway is only 1,860m long.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
On the face of it, how does anyone land at the wrong airport? In fact, it happens more often than anyone would like, and if you look at the BBC report, it's easy to see how it could happen. They have a map of Wichita, KS showing the two airports.
The size isn't all that different, and more importantly, they're both on the same side of Wichita, roughly the same layout and the runways are on almost the same heading, if about 6 miles apart. That means pilots lining up for an approach to one airport are also lined up to head to the other. A bit of distraction in the cockpit, some weather obscuring visibility, and once the pilots decide they have the airport they want in sight, it's awfully hard to shake off that mistaken apprehension - especially if they're busy working through the landing checklist. (I'm guessing there is nothing on there about "Verify you're looking at the correct airport before continuing approach.")
There's audio of the crew sitting on the ground at Jabara, talking to the tower trying to figure out what happened. I expect all the tapes are getting reviewed right now on just how the pilots lined up on the wrong airport, and what controllers were doing while this happened.
As for the take-off, they're making it seem riskier than it may actually be - because they're talking about the distance needed to get airborne carrying a maximum load. A large part of the weight of an airplane on takeoff is fuel. They only need to carry enough to get into the air, and fly to McConnell with a small reserve for safety. Colder temperatures, wind in the right direction will also be factors. That can reduce the actual distance they'll need - and if it's still not enough, you better believe they won't even try it.
The BBC has a related story on this particular special 747 "heavy". It's one of just 4 Boeing uses to ferry in assemblies to build the Dreamliner. (Boeing specs here.) This was part of their 'strategy' to spread manufacturing around the world, supposedly in aid of efficiency and profit margins. It was also about showing Boeing's unions in Seattle that they were dispensable, and it's had some real downsides in practice. If this plane is NOT able to get out of Jabara Field, it's going to put a serious crimp in Boeing's supply lines and delivery schedules.
Needless to say, Wichita is going to be in the news tonight.
12:57 PM PT: UPDATE: and they got it into the air just fine today. More details to follow.
UPDATE: The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter made a successful takeoff from Colonel James Jabara Airport this afternoon. (The video at the link is not currently working, but hopefully the BBC will get that sorted out shortly.) There's a nicely detailed explanation by exatc that lays out the probable course of events that resulted in the 747 landing at the wrong airport.
Stuff happens - but at least this time it looks like everything has been taken care of.