POSTED: Saturday, July 28, 2012 - 9:00am
UPDATED: Saturday, July 28, 2012 - 9:04am
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — Air Force officials are trying to figure out why an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo jet heading to MacDill Air Force Base instead landed at Tampa's tiny Peter O. Knight Airport on Florida's Friday afternoon.
The plane, flown by a crew from the 305th Air Mobility Wing at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, was arriving from Southwest Asia carrying 23 passengers and a crew of 19 when it made an "unscheduled landing," said Sgt. David Carbajal, a McGuire spokesman.
There appears to have been no damage to the aircraft or the airport.
The small airport normally hosts single-engine private planes and a few helicopters.
The gray military jet so outsized the small airport that its engines rattled houses across the island and its tires left skid marks the length of the runway.
The plane ultimately stopped just a few feet before the pavement ended.
The runway was too small to turn the jet, so pilots lowered the cargo bay doors and reversed engines while crew walking the runway with radios guided the plane backward to the tarmac.
Ryan Gucwa, a local pilot, was getting ready to get in his Piper Navajo and take off from the airport when he looked up and saw "this huge C-17 coming in over the top of the shipping port."
He managed to take out his cellphone to record video.
Seeing military airplanes over Peter O. Knight is not unusual, Gucwa said, but "this was only 100 feet off the ground, and that is bizarre. Once the wheels touched the ground, I was terrified that there was no way to stop in time."
The nose landing gear of the jet stopped six to 10 feet from the end of the runway, Gucwa said.
Peter O. Knight Airport is not equipped with a control tower.
Aircraft rely on radio communications for landings there.
Normally, Federal Aviation Administration controllers at Tampa International Airport provide approach control to aircraft landing at MacDill and hand off aircraft to the MacDill tower when aircraft are about 10 miles out.
The airports at MacDill and on Davis islands have much different runways, reflecting the type of aircraft they serve.
The main runway at MacDill stretches 11,421 feet and is 151 feet wide; the main runway at Peter O. Knight is 3,580 feet long and 100 feet wide.
That led some of the many people who came out to marvel at the out-of-place jet to speculate on whether the Davis Islands runway would be long enough for the jet to eventually fly off.
The Air Force was able to fly the jet away - presumably for the short hop to MacDill - about 8:15 p.m.