Nightly News   |  November 21, 2013

‘A whopper of a pilot’s mistake’

A plane flying into Kansas ended up at a tiny commercial airport called Col. James Jabara where the crew had no idea where they were. It was originally bound for the McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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>> while we still have you, there was another aviation story today having to do with a freakishly large, as we said, jumbo jet , the cargo type, landing in the wrong place.

>> reporter: yeah. this was a whopper of a pilot's mistake, and it involved the 747, the dreamlifter , the plane that is used to carry pieces of aircraft where they're built in wichita across country. well, this plane arrived from new york into kansas last night, and here's what happened. apparently the pilot got confused. they were supposed to be landing at mcconnell air force base on the outskirts of wichita. instead the plane ended up nine miles north at a tiny jabarra airport, and the crew had no idea where they were. listen to the conversation now between the atlas airport aline and the pilot.

>> it appears that you are at jabarra airport.

>> reporter: the problem, getting out of there. the dreamlifter generally needs 9,000 feet forteoff and landing. the jabarra has 6,000 feet, but today the crew got it up after letting out a little fuel and lightening the load. the dreamlifter didn't get up as quickly as they had hoped. the faa is investigating, how does this happen? you punch in your airport destination code into the cockpit computer, then pretty much you're on auto pilot . then when you descend out of the clouds and start aiming for the runway, it is all too easy sometimes to not be paying attention. you see the first runway, looks like the right one, and you end up at the wrong airport. that seems to be what happened here, brian.

>> unbelievable turn of events. we're happy it all ended safely. tom costello, washington national airport .