Hard Landing Buckles 767 Fuselage


United Airlines’ oldest Boeing 767 is likely a write-off after the fuselage skin buckled and tore in a hard landing at Houston on July 29. The aircraft arrived from Newark at 10:34 a.m. with 193 passengers and 11 crew, none of whom were injured. Circumstances of the landing have not been released, but the crew taxied to the gate as normal after their rough arrival.

Ground crews found the damage and the plane remains in Houston. According to Simple Flying, the aircraft has been flying for United since 1991 and is one of 37 767-300ERs in the inventory. The plane is scheduled to keep flying until about 2030 when the type is replaced by the Boeing 787. United has 100 Dreamliners on order, and they will replace the 767s and the airline’s first-generation Boeing 777-200s.

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.

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  1. D’oh! How on earth does that happen? Hard landings happen but it appears that this buckled at approximately the first 1/4 of the aircraft.

  2. “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Houston. Please remain seated with your seat belts fastened while the your Captain taxies what’s left of the aircraft to the gate.”

  3. A few years back I was told by a friend about a Delta 757 that had made a serious tail strike in ATL and the pilots walked off without notifying MX of any issues. It was found on the subsequent preflight by the next crew. My friend, who was a mechanic for the airline, was certain the pilots had to have known, or at least suspected that they had struck the tail, due to the extensive damage it sustained.

    • I know nothing about 767’s but, other aircraft specifically call out inspecting the area forward of the wing attachment after a ‘Porpoise Landing’. It doesn’t take much of a nose first landing to do a whole lot of damage.

  4. A few years ago, an AAL B727 landing cat 2 at BNA took out a the approach lights leaving broken glass all over the runway. Taxied to the gate. Then the crew hopped on their connecting flight and flew away. Airport maintenance vehicle doing routine inspection finally saw the approach light damage and the glass. The investigation began. The 727 was inspected with all other aircraft landing about that time. It had flap creases, gear door damage, and other odds and ends. Captain was located finally. He and the crew swore that no way in the world did they know about that other than it was a hard landing. He said on the cat 2 approach he saw the runway and did probably dive for it instead of following the GS.

    • In my many years as control tower operator I was aware of a number of incidents of pilots being “too low over the approach lights.” In my not so many years as pilot I recall flying an approach in an Aztec, my first one that with minimums of 200-1/2, where I had a barely controllable urge to dive when I first saw the strobes reflecting in the clouds at about 500 ft and 3/4 mile out, on the glide-path. Several years before an AC21 (Jet Commander) on that same approach took out some power lines that took out all the airport lighting. He went around and landed at an alternate, apparently no damage to the airplane, but most likely he didn’t fight the urge to dive on seeing the reflection of the strobes in the clouds.

    • Stress failure is cumulative over time. It’s an old airframe and this was the final straw that broke its back. Hopefully there’s a decent “autopsy” to see if anything was missed during the mandatory structural inspections. Who knows, the service life of sister airframes may well be shortened per age and cycles.

    • That was waay beyond a carrier landing. 500fpm would be a hard landing but not cause that kind of damage.

  5. Every captain needs to assume that his/her first officer is out to kill him/her on every flight.

    Every first officer needs to assume that his/her captain is out to kill him/her on every flight.

  6. I hope that the underlying reason is more than “just a hard landing”. That’s a lot of guilt to carry knowing you totaled a multimillion dollar airplane. I’ve both worked on and flown Boeing aircraft and I would neither sign a ferry permit nor would I fly that aircraft. She’s bent but good. I think that one gets donated to the fire department or scrapped right on the field.

    • That airplane has had the same thing happen before, and United decided to repair it.

      Apparently it’s the oldest 767 (and probably the oldest airframe period) United has, so they may decide it’s cheaper to just part it out than do that king of repair a second time.

  7. The airplane was scheduled to be retired in 2030. Sounds like early retirement to me. Some years ago, when the 777s first came out, a then Continental pilot overrotated on takeoff and the tail strike actually damaged the pressure bulkhead on the plane. The Continental risk manager wisely decided to not have their maintenance people repair the bulkhead, and opted to have Boeing replace it with an all new one. The repairs were done at their Newark hub, and when the plane was put back in service, the old bulkhead was left in the warehouse. The inventive maintenance staff used it as the roof on their smoking shed outside the building.

  8. Maybe United better go back to hiring based on ability. Since they started woke quota hiring, their record Isn’t So Good. A lot of close calls recently.