MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

It was a successfully, if a little tricky, takeoff this afternoon. A Boeing 747 Dreamlifter soared into the air from a runway that was about 3,000 feet too short.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Well, that's a 6,100-foot - I think he was easily up before 5,000, Mike.

BLOCK: This was a big story in Wichita, Kansas, today. They covered it live on KWCH-TV channel 12. The Dreamlifter is a huge cargo jet that carries parts for Boeing planes. And somehow, this one had landed at the wrong airport last night in Wichita.

SIEGEL: It had been headed for McConnell Air Force Base.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Clear to land runway 191, left wheels down, Giant 4241, I mean.

SIEGEL: That's the crew calmly communicating with air traffic control about the routine landing, then confusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Giant 4241 Heavy, McConnell is nine miles south of you.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Yes, sir. We just landed at the other airport.

BLOCK: We just landed at the other airport nine miles away. But which other airport were they talking about?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Do you have the coordinates for this - for the airport?

BLOCK: Do you have the coordinates for the airport? The crew and tower spent some time trying to figure that out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: It appears that you are at Jabara Airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Say the name of it again?

SIEGEL: They were at a small public airport named Jabara, just up the road from their intended destination. That was only half the trouble. The other half was they couldn't leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Tower, we're trying to assess our situation as far as clearing the runway at this time.

BLOCK: Clearing the runway which wasn't built for such a big, heavy plane. Well, given all the instrumentation on a modern aircraft, the obvious question is...

PATRICK SMITH: How could they possibly get in a situation like that? I don't know.

BLOCK: Boeing declined an interview, so we asked a pilot. Patrick Smith is author of the book "Cockpit Confidential."

SMITH: There are all sorts of checklists and procedures that we're using and verifying and cross-checking. It's extraordinarily unusual for something like this to happen, but it's obviously not beyond the realm of possibility.

SIEGEL: Not fair to judge without all the details, said Patrick Smith. And in a written statement, Boeing said they're working with Atlas Air, which operated the plane, to get that information. As for getting off the ground today...

SMITH: Six thousand feet, which was the runway length in this case, is very short for a 747. Under the right weight and weather conditions, it's not impossible to get the airplane off the ground.

BLOCK: And they did. They crunched the numbers overnight. And today, the Boeing cargo plane made the 19-minute flight with a fresh crew to the correct airport.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWSCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: The plane, as you can see, has pushed through the ceiling here and is no longer in our sight. But everything does seem to have gone very well.

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