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Cargo jet takes off from Wichita on short runway

By Tom Watkins and Ed Payne, CNN
November 21, 2013 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The plane landed safely at McConell Air Force Base
  • "Gawkers have caused accidents," one official says
  • Jabara Airport has no control tower and a much shorter runway
  • The FAA is investigating the incident

(CNN) -- A mammoth cargo plane that landed Wednesday night at the wrong airport in Wichita, Kansas -- one that typically does not accommodate such beasts -- took off without incident Thursday afternoon on a runway half a mile shorter than it usually uses.

The Boeing 747 Dreamlifter's massive engines roared as it lumbered down the pavement, then lifted off and disappeared into the overcast sky.

A few minutes later, it landed without incident at the airport 12 miles across town where it was originally supposed to land -- McConnell Air Force Base.

An investigation has begun into what caused the pilot to land at the wrong airport, said Bonnie Rodney, a spokeswoman for Atlas Air, which operates the Boeing-owned jet.

Plane stuck at airport

It was laden with cargo intended for Boeing, she said.

Boeing said the cargo was a B-787 fuselage.

Elaborate precautions had been taken to ensure no one got hurt in the take-off attempt. Police closed nearby roads and urged area residents to stay away from the airport.

"Onlookers and gawkers have caused accidents," said Roger Xanders, chief of airport police and fire.

The takeoff came less than a day after the plane, which was bound for McConnell from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, missed its mark.

Instead of landing, as had been planned, at the military airport on Wichita's southeast side, it landed at the much smaller, general aviation Col. James Jabara Airport on the northeast side.

Jabara has no control tower and normally doesn't handle jumbo jets.

The Atlas Air 747 Dreamlifter is a modified 747-400 passenger airplane that can haul more cargo by volume than any airplane in the world.

When fully loaded, the Dreamlifter needs a runway 9,199 feet long to take off, reports affiliate KWCH. The Jabara runway is 6,101 feet.

But a spokeswoman for the airport authority, Valerie Wise, cited favorable weather Thursday and the fact that much of the fuel had been used in the flight from JFK -- which lightened the weight of the plane -- for the conclusion that it was safe to take off on the shorter runway. "The engineers have been running calculations all night," she said.

Photos: Boeing through the ages

CNN's Mike Ahlers, Aaron Cooper, Dave Alsup, Jake Carpenter and Justin Lear contributed to this report.

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