In addition to its aviation, agriculture, and assorted other industries, our hometown of Wichita, Kansas, is also a leading supplier of newspaper filler. Forgive our civic pride, but we can’t help boasting that our humble prairie metropolis is perhaps the nation’s leading provider, at least on a per capita basis, of those intriguingly weird stories of little significance that editors cannot resist running.
It might be a couple caught copulating in a garbage dumpster, or a morbidly obese man affixed to his toilet seat, or a long-lost brother and sister who had unknowingly been dating one another, but it’s always something with that certain wackiness required to warrant a Wichita dateline. The latest local incident to make the national news concerned an airplane that landed at the wrong airport. This is not so uncommon as to be noteworthy, our air-going friends surprisingly assure us, but in this case it was a very large airplane that landed at a very small airport with a runway too short for a take-off.
What to do with a Boeing 747 Dreamlifter cargo plane stuck on a too-short runway is an interesting question, as is how it got there in the first place, and when you add in the fact that it happened in Wichita the national media were bound to bite on the story. They never did explain how the plane happened to land at Jabara Airport, a small facility named after a local Korean War hero fighter jock that accomodates the frequent small plane traffic into Wichita, rather than McConnell Air Force Base, the massive military facility which is accustomed to large plane traffic and is located near the city’s last remaining Boeing faciility where the cargo of aircraft was intended to be stored, but they did leave the mistaken impression that a city deep in the heart of flyover country didn’t have another runway large enough to accommodate such a hefty aircraft. In fact the plane could have easily taken off from the Mid-Continent Airport that handles the city’s numerous airlines, and the confused pilot apparently thought he had landed at one of the several aircraft plant runways in the plane-building “Air Capital of the World,” but such details might diminish the humorous appeal to bigger city readers.
There seems to have been less interest in what they wound up doing with that grounded plane, although it also makes for a good tale. They turned the plane around with a powerful tow-truck borrowed from one of the local aircraft companies, lightened the plane by leaving just enough fuel to reach the original intended destination about eight miles away, revved the engines to their maximum capacity, and with some ace pilots flown in from back east they somehow got the plane off the ground on a runway approximately half the length of the 12,000 feet recommended by the owner’s manual. Local law enforcement blocked the busy streets for miles around the airport, for fear that the jet engines’ blast would blow enough debris to create a traffic hazard, but a large crowd of local aviation enthusiasts somehow got close enough to cheer the remarkable take-off. Wichita bears no blame for the plane’s unfortunate situation, but it does appreciate a nice bit of aviation derring-do.
The story is not so important as the Obamacare debacle or the Senate’s “nuclear option” or any of the other pendng scandals, all of which are fairly analogous except for the eventual successful take-off, but we can’t resist that Wichita dateline.
— Bud Norman