Residents of Davis Island got an unusual sight Friday afternoon: A large military cargo plane "inadvertently" landed at Peter O. Knight Airport instead of MacDill Air Force Base.
The C-17 Globemaster roared in around 1:20 p.m., surprising many in the downtown area.
"I see this big guy coming over the top of the hangars there. And I knew, him being that low, that he was at the wrong airport," recalled corporate pilot Ryan Gucwa, who provided the video footage of the landing seen here. "He touched down probably about a third of the way down the runway and as soon as they did they slammed on those brakes. I thought for sure they were going to go off the end of the runway."
The small waterfront airport usually handles commuter planes and other general aviation aircraft. Its longest runway is 3,400 feet; Boeing, the plane's manufacturer, says the 164-foot plane can land in as little as 3,000 feet.
The airport was closed while officials figured out what to do about the situation. There was some concern about its ability to take off again -- the giant plane needs almost 8,000 feet of runway to take off when it's fully loaded, but a lot less when it's empty.
For comparison, the main runway at MacDill Air Force Base -- which is oriented the same direction as the long runway at Peter O. Knight -- is 14,000 feet long.
A Boeing spokesperson told FOX 13 the plane would be able to take off from the short runway, but deferred further comment to the Air Force.
Weight was another concern. The plane weighs roughly 400,000 lbs. but was sitting on an airstrip designed to hold only 20,000 lbs.
But evidently, officials felt confident enough to allow the plane to fly out. It was just after sunset when the four giant engines revved up, churning up the largest dust cloud the small airport is likely to ever see. As onlookers cheered, the aircraft eased its way into the sky for a short hop south to MacDill.
What's next for the plane and it's crew? The Air Force had no immediate comment.
Full USAF statement from earlier Friday afternoon:
An Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft carrying 23 passengers, plus a crew of 19, landed at Peter O. Knight airport near Tampa, rather than at the planned destination of MacDill Air Force Base, about four miles away.
The aircraft, flying in support of U.S. Central Command, was apparently
undamaged and there were no injuries. There appears to be no damage to the airfield. In concert with airfield officials, the Air Force is planning to move the aircraft to allow Peter O. Knight airport to re-open.
The incident is under investigation.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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