A theoretical situation.

I fly from Honolulu International to the Bejing but my private jet gets fuel starvation and then I land on the Wake Island airstrip.

What happens next? Would the military give me fuel or they would give me shelter and tell me to stay? Did such things ever happen?

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    $\begingroup$ tangentially related: aviation.stackexchange.com/q/32427/13842 (specific to Area 51) $\endgroup$ – stripybadger May 31 '19 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ I'd like to see this question reposted except asking if it's a North Korean airbase. $\endgroup$ – Dai May 31 '19 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Dai I will post a related question just for you :D $\endgroup$ – Delta Oscar Uniform May 31 '19 at 11:46
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    $\begingroup$ "give me shelter and tell me to stay" is a nice euphemism for what they might really say.. :) $\endgroup$ – pipe Jun 1 '19 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ Not so theoretical: In 2016 a Delta A320 landed at Ellsworth AFB by mistake!! avherald.com/h?comment=49adef6e&opt=0 $\endgroup$ – DJohnM Jun 2 '19 at 6:26

Wake Island has had aircraft divert there before, as it serves as an ETOPS diversion airport.

Per the remarks on AirNav and the NOTAMs:




It's possible you could plan to fly through there with prior permission, as with most military fields. AirNav reports 2% of the average of 49 operations per day are transient general aviation, so it's not entirely military, but government and contractors probably make up most of this.

If your emergency is just that you forgot to have enough fuel, you should be able to get more fuel and depart again, for a fee. If there is a fuel leak or some other maintenance issue, you could be in for a longer stay.


As with the airliner that diverted, maintenance equipment and personnel will have to be flown in for any work that needs to be done.

You should be in contact with Oakland ARTCC through San Francisco ARINC in the oceanic airspace, and can call base operations ahead of time to advise of your needs. If it's outside of their normal staffing hours, they need at least 30 minutes notice to open back up.

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    $\begingroup$ "2% of the average of 49 operations per day" In other words, one flight per day. I'd say that something that happens, on average, every single day is pretty common. $\endgroup$ – David Richerby May 31 '19 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder whether the "transient general aviation" there includes contractors and other government agencies that are not part of the military, but who are actually supposed to be there (Department of the Interior for the Wildlife Refuge, for example.) Also, an average of 1 flight operation per day would really mean a plane every other day (1 landing, 1 takeoff each.) $\endgroup$ – reirab May 31 '19 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like they have JP-5 fuel (J5?) -- is that equivalent to Jet-A, or would an airline need to ship in fuel if they had to refuel? This answer notes the differences but doesn't say if a civilian plane can fly on JP-5) $\endgroup$ – Johnny Jun 2 '19 at 15:27

Landing at a military base is not off limits to civilian aircraft but typically requires some pre-approval. In an emergency situation (and declared over the radio) most military facilities will be helpful. If you came diving in with out any radio announcements and on an apparent crash course the situation may not play out in your favor. But a stable glide in approach with announcements should be safe. You will have lots of questions to answer on the ground though.

I’m sure you will be scolded quite a bit for departing without enough fuel and an FAA/NTSB incident report will need to be filled out.

Fuel may be a bit tricky (although I’m sure you can get some). If it’s a base there may be no way to actually sell you the fuel as the military is not really a retailer. It’s likely that you will have to submit some forms etc etc but it’s unlikely they will keep you stranded.

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Many years ago, I had an unexpected landing at a non-towered military base. I did not need fuel which made things easy. The base stored nuclear weapons, and we were escorted at all times, until we were able to depart. Security was annoyed, but polite. Since we did not leave the ramp, there was no paperwork that we needed, however we did provide the MPs identification, and an explanation as to why we needed to land there.

That was several decades before 2001, so the welcoming committee might have a slightly different posture today.

From a subjective standpoint, people are human, and aircraft are imperfect machines, and there has to be recognition of that. Long established maritime law recognizes that.

Also, the ramp personnel explained that obtaining fuel would have been problematic and potentially required substantial delay.

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    $\begingroup$ So why did you have to land? Weather? $\endgroup$ – Joshua May 31 '19 at 21:55

The military understands that a distressed aircraft is a priority situation in terms of safety. When you are an emergency aircraft, all available resources will be provided to you. Once the emergency is complete, the situation will change depending on where you are and what resources are available. They will follow some security protocols initially and it will be slow and cumbersome. Then you’ll have the FAA to deal with. But you’ll be safe, and as a guy who has been a distressed aircraft and damaged a plane on landing, you’ll be one happy camper to be uninjured and healthy.

Long story short, passing up a safe landing area just because it’s military is crazy.

“Who are you and why did you land here?”

“My name is Jon and I had an inflight emergency that forced me to land here.”

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