Every once in a while, the news media will carry reports of commercial or military aircraft making a routine landing at the wrong airport. In recent years there was a story of planes landing at the wrong airports – twice in a few weeks. One was a Boeing 737-300 flight with 124 passengers and five crew members going from Chicago to Branson, Mo. By mistake the flight landed at Taney County Airport, also known as Graham Clark Downtown Airport, about seven miles from the Branson airport
A few weeks before that, a Boeing 747 delivering parts to McConnell Air Force Base, Wichita, Kan., landed at Col. James Jabara Airport, about nine miles from the airbase. The big 747 only had a two person crew and no passengers.
The incidents caused me to think back to 1952 when I was stationed at Great Falls AFB as a Link trainer instructor. The Air Force Reserve was recalling Reserve personnel with WWII flying experience to fill the need for pilots in the Korean fracas. Many of them reported to Great Falls AFB (now Malmstrom AFB). As part of their re-training were night-time cross-country flights. Occasionally I would catch a hop to southern California for quick visits with my folks.
On a Great Falls to Burbank flight I sat at what sometimes would be a radio operator’s post and could listen to radio transmissions. Everything seemed routine until after landing, the pilot told the Burbank tower that our plane was on the ground at such and such time and requested taxi instructions. The tower operator replied, “Air Force C-47, we’re glad you’re on the ground OK, but you’re not at our airport!”
Our pilot had landed at Glendale Central Airport, only a few miles away. With proper instructions and headings, our C-47 quickly took off and in a few minutes was at Burbank. The Glendale field was closed to traffic a few weeks after that.
We were told later that was not an unusual incident involving those two neighboring airfields.
Paul Fugleberg is a former editor and co-publisher of the Flathead Courier of Polson and the Ronan Pioneer, his freelance articles and photos have appeared in numerous national and regional magazines and newspapers, and he has written several books. He may be reached at email@example.com.