The Boeing 747 jumbo jet that mistakenly landed at a small Kansas airport not far from the air force base where it was supposed to land has, on its second attempt, successfully reached its destination, although questions still remain as to what brought the pilot to the wrong airport in the first place.
The 747-400 landed at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita some time after 2 p.m. ET Thursday after spending the first part of the day on the runway at Col. James Jabara Airport, where it had mistakenly landed the night before while on its way to McConnell to deliver parts for Boeing's famed new 787 Dreamliner.
The small Jabara airport is about 13 kilometres north of the air force base, and its runway is just 1,860 metres long, much shorter than is ideal for an aircraft the size of a Boeing 747.
The huge plane had to be turned around by a tug to prepare for departure.
Boeing owns the plane, but it's operated by Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, a New York-based cargo-hauler that also provides crews or planes to companies that need them.
Pilot sounds confused
The area of Kansas where the plane landed Wednesday evening has three airports with similar runway configurations: the air force base, the Jabara airfield and a third facility in between called Beech Airport.
Atlas Air spokeswoman Bonnie Rodney declined to answer questions about why the pilot missed his target and referred inquiries to Boeing.
"We are working with Atlas Air to determine the circumstances," Boeing said in a written statement.
The plane was flying with a two-man crew and no passengers.
The Federal Aviation Administration planned to investigate whether the pilot followed air traffic controllers' instructions or violated any federal regulations.
The pilot sounds confused in his exchanges with air traffic control, according to audio provided by LiveATC.net, which posts live air traffic communications
"We just landed at the other airport," the pilot says to controllers shortly after the landing.
Once the pilot says they're at the wrong airport, two different controllers jump in to confirm that the plane is safely on the ground and fully stopped.
Mixes up compass directions
The pilot and controllers then go back and forth trying to figure out which airport the plane is at. At one point, a controller reads to the pilot the co-ordinates where he sees the plane on radar. When the pilot reads the co-ordinates back, he mixes up "east" and "west."
"Sorry about that, couldn't read my handwriting," the pilot says.
A few moments later, the pilot says he thinks he knows where they are. He then asks how many airports there are to the south of McConnell. But the airports are north of McConnell.
"I'm sorry, I meant north," the pilot says when corrected. "I'm sorry. I'm looking at something else."
They finally agree on where the plane is after the pilot reports that a smaller plane, visible on the radar of air traffic control, has just flown overhead.
The modified 747 is one of a fleet of four that hauls parts around the world to make Boeing's 787 Dreamliner. The "Dreamlifter" is a 747-400 with its body expanded to hold whole fuselage sections and other large parts. If a regular 747 with its bulbous double-decker nose looks like a snake, the bulbous Dreamlifter looks like a snake that swallowed a rat.
Dreamlifters cut delivery time
According to flight-tracking service FlightAware, this particular Dreamlifter has been transiting between Kansas and Italy, where the centre fuselage section and part of the tail of the 787 are made.
McConnell is next to Spirit AeroSystems, which also does extensive 787 work. The nearly finished sections are then shipped to Boeing plants in Everett, Wash., and North Charleston, S.C., for assembly into finished airplanes. Boeing is on track to make 10 of them per month by the end of this year.
Because 787 sections are built all over the world — including wings made in Japan — the Dreamlifters are crucial to the 787's construction. Boeing says the Dreamlifter cuts delivery time down to one day from as many as 30 days.
Although rare, landings by large aircraft at smaller airports have happened from time to time.
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.