Dreamlifter Audio Reveals Confused State of Pilots
The NTSB opened an investigation last week into why a Boeing Dreamlifter 747-400 mistakenly landed at Wichita’s Jabara Airport on November 20, rather than its intended destination, McConnell Air Force Base some eight miles farther south. The audio between the McConnell tower and the freighter reveals the state of the crew’s disorientation, even after the aircraft was safely on the ground. The Atlas Air crew operating the aircraft for Boeing contacted the McConnell tower to signal its intent to use the Rnav GPS approach to Runway 19 Left. The crew, sounding slightly confused, queried the tower about the distance to the air force base, to which the controller replied “about nine miles.” The specially adapted 747, which is used to carry large airframe sections for Boeing, then landed straight-in on Jabara’s 6,000-foot runway, eight miles from McConnell. The crew initially thought they’d landed at Beech Field and later asked for that airport’s GPS coordinates, but soon realized these were not consistent with what the aircraft’s nav system showed. The flight crew asked tower personnel which airport might match the coordinates they did show. McConnell tower personnel finally confirmed the 747 had landed at Jabara and asked the pilots if they knew which airport they were at. The pilot responded he had a pretty good idea, but then asked, “…how many airports directly to the south of 19…are there?” The tower corrected the pilot telling them they were north, not south, of McConnell. The 747 pilot then asked the controller for the GPS coordinates for Jabara to confirm their location. A different crew was brought in the next day to fly the aircraft out of Jabara over to McConnell. Among the questions to be addressed by the investigation is why the tower controller failed to notice the 747’s low altitude as it descended into Jabara.