Dreamlifter: Very Big Plane, Little Runway

What do you do when you land one of the world’s biggest airplanes at the wrong airport?

According to the audio, the Dreamlifter pilots can be heard saying to the McConnell control tower: “Ahh, yes sir, we just landed at the other airport.”

Not exactly the most comforting phrase in aviation.

For those that don’t know, the Dreamlifter is a hacked up 747 that Boeing uses to move wings, fuselage pieces and other parts for the 787 Dreamliner. As described to me by a Boeing official a few years ago, they bought some old 747s back from an Asian airline customer and “Frankensteined them”. I’ve been on the plane and it’s wicked cool. The tail swings open on a hinge so they can load a full wing in.

Anyway, on the way to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, the pilots of the Dreamlifter mistakenly landed at Jabara airport, a much smaller runway about 10 miles away.  The Dreamlifter normally requires about 9,000 feet of runway to takeoff effectively.  Jabara’s runway is just about 6,000 feet, or much shorter than necessary.

It was noted after landing that the runway showed heavy skid marks near the end where the Dreamlifter stopped.  Uh, yeah.

The good folks at Boeing have some smart engineers.  They crunched the numbers, burned the midnight oil, flew in the two best Dreamlifter pilots they could find, backed the plane up as far as humanly possible,  drained off all the fuel they could to make the short flight to McConnell, and took off in record distance, only using about half of the much shorter runway.  The local police closed the highway adjacent to the runway for fear a car would get damaged in the jet thrust.

Pretty funny story, overall.

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