A Boeing Large Cargo Freighter (Dreamlifter) carrying part of a Boeing 787 fuselage lost a wheel shortly after taking off from Taranto-Grottaglie Airport in Italy on Tuesday. The aircraft was on its way to Charleston, South Carolina, where Boeing has a Dreamliner assembly plant. The center section of the fuselage is built by Alenia in Italy and is moved to Charleston using the outsized modified Boeing 747. The aircraft continued to Charleston and landed safely on its remaining 17 wheels.

The bulky plane had just lifted off when smoke started to stream from the rear outboard wheel on the left main gear. The tire appeared to explode in a puff of black smoke and the still-smoking wheel assembly bounced off the infield before careening into a vineyard adjacent to the airport. There were no reported injuries. The plane was operated by cargo carrier Atlas Air.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. Lead has been used in gasoline for how many years ? and the EPA is just now declaring it “dangerous” – effective after a certain cutoff date? SMH! I suppose the UN will now follow suit …

  2. Looks like before retracting the gear, the brakes are applied and the brake in that wheel may have seized immediately releasing the black cloud and rupturing off either the axle or whatever part of the brake assembly while letting go of the wheel. It would be interesting to get to know what the real reason was.

  3. This is one of those videos where you can’t draw any conclusions except one; like always, when something interesting happens the camera guy shows us the weeds at his feet. Normally, a simple blown tire doesn’t cause a wholesale detachment from it’s rim. Nor does a blown tire cause the entire wheel (hub, rim, & tire) to fall off. From the way the wheel truck angles upwards after liftoff (normal) and during landing flare, the rear wheels probably see more wear. We’ll have to see the FAA report a year from now to have a clue.

    • He had to quickly point the camera at the weeds as he realized he had just witnessed a secret test of a modern variant of an “Upkeep” – last used in anger 79 years ago. Didn’t want to give anything away about its ultimate performance…… 🙂

    • >>We’ll have to see the FAA report a year from now to have a clue.

      You probably mean the NTSB, but this happened in Italy. I don’t think we will ever get anything from the FAA nor the NTSB. I doubt this even qualifies as an accident.

  4. I’m guessing a dry or frozen wheel bearing that was dragging throughout the takeoff roll. It would get very hot and start to cook the tire. Tapping the brakes on retraction might have just pushed it over the edge and the tire blew, encouraging the (red hot?) axle to separate in all the excitement. I imagine a heavy lifter like that puts a lot of load on the wheels and brakes. More than a stock 747?

      • I believe the 747 gear retraction sequence automatically applies brake pressure to stop the wheels. High-pressure tires on large aircraft have lead plugs that will blow out to prevent un-engineered ruptures of the tire due to over-temp (usually after an RTO). It’s possible that happened here, but clearly something else was wrong as well since the wheel typically stays attached.

        • Justin, you are referring to the fusible plug in a jet’s tire, designed to start melting at a certain temperature. Those plugs do not “blow out”, they are designed to slowly deflate the tire. I’ve seen it first hand.

  5. Back in the early 70’s, the first C-5A cargo plane was being landed at Charleston AFB, co- located with the civilan airport. After landing, the crew noticed a wheel rolling down the runway ahead of them. Unlike that 747, they only had 23 wheels left (I think that is correct). The pilot in command was the 4-Star General, commander of MAC (Military Airlift Command).

  6. “landed safely on its remaining 17 wheels” — I just love that.

    Almost as good as the first comment about lead. Got a bone to pick, just can’t figure out where to pick it.

  7. > The aircraft continued to Charleston and landed safely on its remaining 17 wheels.

    Ah yes, the dreaded 17-wheel landing–very dangerous…