Belly-landed Aircraft Gets a Lift from NASA’s Balloon Team

NASA balloon program helps airport emergency response
Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility technicians on-site in Wanaka, New Zealand, for NASA’s scheduled super pressure balloon launch operations assist Wanaka Airport emergency responders in moving a World War II-era plane that belly-landed at the airport March 28. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

A little post-airshow excitement occurred at Wanaka Airport March 28 when a World War II era Harvard aircraft safely belly landed on the airport’s runway around 9:30 a.m. March 28.

After touching down, the aircraft’s landing gear apparently collapsed, bringing the aircraft’s belly down to the runway surface.

No injuries were reported in the incident, but airport operations had to pause while officials devised a means to safely clear the Harvard from the runway. Looking for a lift, the airport team turned to NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility (CSBF) team and the knuckleboom crane it has on site.

CSBF team helps with emergency response
Alec Beange helps work the knuckleboom crane to lift a Harvard aircraft off the Wanaka Airport’s runway. (NASA/Bill Rodman)

Technicians Randall Henderson, Jacob Richard, Curtis Frazier, Corey Weber, and Alec Beange assisted airport emergency operations staff who worked to secure straps about the aircraft to ensure a safe lift with the knuckleboom.

With the straps in place, the CSBF team maneuvered the knuckleboom into position, hooked the straps, and slowly lifted the plane off the ground. Once lifting the plane about two feet (.66 meters) off the runway, emergency crews slid a helicopter dolly underneath the plane. The CSBF crew slowly placed the aircraft on the dolly, and from there, crews were easily able to move the aircraft from the runway and resume flight operations.

“All in day’s work,” said Dwayne Orr, CSBF program manager, speaking on the team’s ability to rapidly shift gears from balloon operations to airport emergency response. “We feel a close bond with the airport community here, and we’re proud to have been of assistance in the response. We’re all thankful no one was hurt in the incident.”

CSBF assists with emergency response
A World War II-era Harvard aircraft is lifted onto a helicopter dolly for transport off the Wanaka Airfield after the aircraft’s landing gear collapsed. (NASA/Bill Rodman)