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How do you land at the wrong airport?

PhatAJ2008

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Read this in an article about Northwest from Answers.com

"In 2004, pilots on a Northwest Airlines flight mistakenly landed at Ellsworth AFB instead of at the Rapid City airport. Passengers aboard were asked to close their window shades by the US Air Force."

How is this possible?
 

TrafficInSight

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PhatAJ2008 said:
Read this in an article about Northwest from Answers.com

"In 2004, pilots on a Northwest Airlines flight mistakenly landed at Ellsworth AFB instead of at the Rapid City airport. Passengers aboard were asked to close their window shades by the US Air Force."

How is this possible?
Summon that 50 hours of experience and answer this for yourself ;)
 

CitationXDriver

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Not only land at the wrong airport, but an active Air Force Base of all places!!
 

USMCmech

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It's easier than you would think.


Most airports in the same area are laid out with similiar runway patterns due to the prevailing winds being the same. If you get a few miles off course, and are lined up with a east/west runway surrounded by a city, it's not hard to mistake it for the airport you were suposed to land at.


FL is terrible because of this. About every 20 miles up the atlantic coast there is an old WW2 airport. They all have the same triangle shaped runway layout, or the same parallel runways with a single corssing runway.
I have lined up on the wrong airport several times before I realized that I was looking at the wrong place. Never touched down though (knock on wood).
 

PhatAJ2008

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Nevermind, so they weren't actually cleared to land there I see..
 
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THOSE AIRPORTS LOOK QUITE DIFFERENT.

Those guys are idiots.

Remember all the fancy smancy toys they have up front.
 

dhc8fo

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Don't know the circumstances of this incident, but although our planes have RNAV and/or FMS (depending on which type we are flying that leg), only airports that meet our landing criteria are in the database. If we were to divert for any weird reason (such as unexpected 9/11 where we had to land at an airport that we don't even service), we would be doing it the old fashioned way.

On some approach plates, you will see notes that say be careful not to mistake blah blah airport for such-and-such airport (of course, not in those words).

I don't see myself making that mistake, but it isn't that hard to do, especially at night.

Also, like I said, I don't have all of the details on this particular incident, but some airline aircraft aren't all that "fancy smancy" up front. My cherokee is better equipped than some airliners.
 

semperfido

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Metro752 said:
THOSE AIRPORTS LOOK QUITE DIFFERENT.

Those guys are idiots.

Remember all the fancy smancy toys they have up front.

it happens more than you think. be careful -- that idiot could be you someday:D
 

JohnE

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I flew thru Omaha, look at KOMA (main airport). There is an airforce base 10 mi south KOFF. Would be easy to mistake the two if you broke out of the clouds south of KOMA.
 

mayday1

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dhc8fo said:
Also, like I said, I don't have all of the details on this particular incident, but some airline aircraft aren't all that "fancy smancy" up front. My cherokee is better equipped than some airliners.
if memory serves me right, this was an A320 or 319.. one with all the fancy smancy stuff : )
 

traffic pilot

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Lined up on rwy 7 at GEG in a Navajo Tower said we don't have you in sight yet but your're cleared to land. Descending through about 5 hun started noticing that there was a huge B 52 convention in town. oops Fairchild AFB.
 

cforst513

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I used to do it all the time on MS flightsimulator. IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU, MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 

DirtyBeech

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it's easy to do it in lake charles. they've got two airports (chenault and lack charles) that look identical and are very close together. a little haze in the atmosphere or in your head could make it quite easy. never say it couldn't happen to you. i imagine there are quite a few guys who never thought they'd belly land a perfectly good airplane either.
 

Pugh

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Why did the AF have the passengers close their shades? I doubt theres anything really top secret they could see from an airliner, nontheless when their too busy being POed that they landed at the wrong airport.
 

Flying Illini

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Was just into KRAP (haha!) two weeks ago...THESE (ellsworth and rapid city) AIRPORTS ARE VERY, VERY EASY TO CONFUSE!!!! Both have the exact same runway alignment. You actually spot Ellsworth FIRST because the rwy is so freakin big. If memory serves, they are either 6 miles, or less than 6 miles apart. On the visual appch (don't remember what rwy) my pattern (downwind leg) actually had me flying a final for ellsworth...but I broke it off into a left base:) The jepp charts make you well aware of the possibility of landing at ellsworth instead of rapid city. THe only reason we realized we were about to call ellsworth in site and not KRAP was because we couldn't find Elssworth AFB...(we were looking right at it, but thought we were looking at rapid city). Then, we saw a much smaller looking airport and THEN we knew how easy it would have been. When you call appch and again on tower, they tell you were to look for the airport and to confirm that you have it in site.
It's easy to do, and when you go visual, if you're not careful, it could easily happen to any one of us.
 

Vector4fun

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Take a look at Biggs AAF (BIF) rwy 21 and ELP rwy 22. Two miles apart and parallel. Used to wave off somebody lined up with BIF almost every week it seemed. I dunno, may be better now ELP extended 22 and added a big cargo ramp. I knew the FO of the AA flight that landed at BIF years ago....
 

TonyC

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JohnE said:
I flew thru Omaha, look at KOMA (main airport). There is an airforce base 10 mi south KOFF. Would be easy to mistake the two if you broke out of the clouds south of KOMA.
"Easy" is such a subjective word. :)


The runway layouts and alignments of Offutt Air Force Base and Omaha Eppley are considerably different, so it would be LESS easy to mistake the two than some of the other AFB/civil field pairs mentioned in this thread.

Offutt has a single runway, Eppley has three.

Offutt's runway is oriented 30/12. Eppley's are 32L/14R, 32R/14L, and 36/18.

Neither airport is located conveniently along or near the path you might take to fly towards the other airport.

In most of the situations cited in this thread and in most incidents, the runway layout is very similar in terms of numbers of runways and the orientation of the runways. To further complicate the scenarios, the "wrong" airport often comes into view while properly aligned for the "right" airport, just at an earlier than normal time.


For example, the Runways at Rapid City are 32/14 and 05/23. Runway 32/14 is large (8,701' x 150') and quite visible, while the perpendicular runway is relatively small (3,601' x 75') and difficult to spot. Ellsworth's single runway 31/13 is very large (13,497' x 300'), is oriented quite similarly to Rapid City's large runway, and is located near the course one might fly to land on Rapid City's Rwy 32.

An aerial view shows how you might easily confuse the two if you were perhaps lined up for Rwy 32 at Rapid City and popped out of an overcast to see Ellsworth off to the left a little. The situation could be exacerbated if you had a left crosswind and Ellsworth appeared to be straight off your nose. Or perhaps you're on a right base for Rapid City on a somewhat hazy day and you spot Ellsworth as you're turning onto a right dogleg.

In most cases, the landings at the wrong airfields could have been avoided had the pilots used all the resources available to them at the time. However, we're all human, we all tend to love shortcuts, and we all make mistakes. Ergo, this conversation.


:)
 

Wang Chung

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I've seen the Ellsworth/RAP, Biggs/ELP and Lake Charles/Chenault layouts while flying into these airports (the civilian ones) and I would agree that they can be confusing under the right circumstances. A professional pilot(s) exercising due care and using all available resources (i.e. backing up a visual with a loc, etc.) should be fine. But doing a visual in less than perfect circumstances - darkness, unfamiliarity with the area, haze/MVFR, fatigue...I can see where it can happen.
 
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