UPDATE: More Details Emerge In United 737-900 Tail-Strike Episode


More details have come out related to the embarrassing tail-strike episode involving a chartered United Boeing 737-900. As previously reported, the airliner was carrying the University of Southern California (USC) football team to Lewiston, Idaho, on Friday for a Saturday game with Washington State, just across the state line.

United issued the following statement: “United flight 2509 flying from Los Angeles, California, to Lewiston, Idaho, landed without incident. However, due to a shift in weight and balance during the offloading process, the tail of the aircraft tipped backwards. No ground personnel, customers, or crew reported any injury.”

According to multiple posts on news stories related to the incident, standard procedure calls for using a tail stand to ensure the stretched 737-900 would not be susceptible to balance issues while parked, but ground crews at Lewiston either did not have a tail stand available or the procedure slipped through the operational cracks.

Despite several suggestions that attributed the incident to hefty linemen being the last to disembark, a USC spokesperson told local news outlets that all the players had already deplaned, and it was only support staff members who were left on board at the time. No one was injured—and USC went on to win the game.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. An excellent opportunity for crew to get real time look at what pitch attitude not to exceed during rotation or landing. Place a little grease pencil mark on the AI. Plus a post-it, “insert tail stand”.

    • Different scenarios, Roger.

      Perhaps wise to tell cabin and cockpit crew to be careful as this version of the 737 is loooong.

      I’d hope the ramp workers are given a profile for each type of airplane, though of course they have to read them, aircraft operator’s service arrangers should advise airports as SOP.

      My memory of earlier reports was that the forward luggage hold was emptied first. Perhaps procedures should ensure it is filled before the aft hold and unloaded last.

      • One of Boeing’s recent airliner versions automatically forces a bit of pitch reduction to reduce risk of tail strike in air. (IIRC something like lifting flight spoilers up a bit on final approach.)

        But this case was at zero airspeed – airplane went out of balance during unloading.

        I presume operators of B727C and B737C in the Arctic used tail posts as necessary. They were typically flown with freight pallets forward and pax aft, had to ballast with rocks/water southbound as little cargo, to keep flight CofG in limits. They were not especially long airplanes, just unbalanced configuration.

        Some B727s and B757s may have had a tailbumper piece with shock absorber to reduce fuselage damage from over-rotation.

  2. So Boeing managed to design an aircraft which has stability issues, even when parked.
    Have they any good designers left?
    They will need some for the motor-bike style stand they will have to fit to the tail of these freaks.