A Badly Damaged 33-Year-Old United 767 Comes Back From The Dead

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Eight months after one of United Airlines’ Boeing 767-300ERs suffered substantial frame damage during landing, the aircraft lives to see another day.

A sure write-off? Not so fast

On July 29, 2023, United operated flight UA702 from Newark (EWR) to Houston (IAH) with a Boeing 767-300ER registered N641UA. After a nominal flight, and stable approach, the aircraft’s nose gear bounced twice with abnormal levels of force before settling on the ground.

In a preliminary report compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the pilots recounted their experience as follows:

According to the flight crew, the airplane was fully configured for landing, on speed and in compliance with the company’s stable approach criteria and the initial touchdown on the main wheels was normal. The FO stated that after the main landing gear touched down, he held aft pressure on the control yoke to keep the nose wheel from hitting the runway; however, the nose wheel made contact with abnormal force.

The airplane appeared to bounce, and he reacted by pulling aft on the control yoke, in an effort to keep the nose wheel from impacting the runway a second time. Subsequently, the speed brakes deployed, and the auto brakes engaged which resulted in a second bounce of the nose wheel. He deployed the thrust reversers, and the airplane began to decelerate. The captain assumed control of the airplane and the remainder of the landing rollout was normal with no risk of runway overrun or excursion.

According to the aircraft data, the events following the landing tell a slightly different story as the aircraft became unstable on touch down.

A preliminary review of the flight data recorder (FDR) revealed that after the initial touchdown on both main wheels, the airplane rolled to the left and right main gear lifted off the runway’s surface.

Subsequently, the nose wheel touched down with a gravitational force equivalent (g) of about 1.4 g and bounced. The speed brakes deployed, and the nose wheel impacted the runway a second time with a force of about 1.6 g followed by another bounce.

The right thrust reverser (TR) deployed, and the nose wheel impacted the runway again with a force of about 1.6 g followed by the deployment of the left TR.

An assessment of the aircraft revealed “substantial damage to the crown of the upper fuselage”.

Credit: United via NTSB

Returning to service against the odds

A photo of the 33-year-old widebody popped up on the /r/unitedairlines subreddit, showing the aircraft just about to takeoff. Many speculated that based on the age of the aircraft and the damage incurred as a result of the botched landing, United might have opted to have the frame scrapped for parts.

However this was not the case as remedial works were carried out, with the photo showing replacement of a sizeable chunk of the forward upper fuselage.

Work was carried out at its base in Houston and was later flown to Wilmington (ILN) to conduct a series of test flights. From there it flew to Lake Charles (CWF) for painting, and was ferried back to Houston on March 26, 2024. It re-entered commercial service the following day, and has since flown to various long-haul destinations including Lima, Munich and London.

United’s 767s are set to be replaced by their upcoming Airbus A321XLRs. They were initially carded for delivery starting in 2024 but this has since been pushed back to 2025. Maybe United wants to play it safe in case delivery dates of their newer aircraft get further pushed back.

Featured image: GroupBQuattr0/Reddit

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