These pictures are shocking to any aviation geek, so a word of caution before taking a peek. 🙂
Apparently a catering truck backed into one of American’s less than 1 year old aircraft. I’d hate to be this guy who has to tell his boss about this… “Dear boss, it was an uneventful day until…”
So, is this the end of this plane? Apparently not.
In an interesting Reddit thread, a knowledgable aircraft repair engineer replied to some common misconceptions about this incident.
Here’s what he had to say:
Aircraft repair engineer here. It’s my job to design & stress (write a report saying its strong enough) structural repair members for damage like this. I see a fair bit of misinformation in here and I’d like to toss in my $0.02:
1) “its a write off” No. Most certainly not. I’d bet my bottom dollar on it. Someone stated this aircraft is ~1 year old and has a price of $200 mil. Even with replacing a large amount of structure and electronics there is no way it would cost $200 million. Heck, USAF rebuilt a B-2 that crashed and burned in Guam for $105 mil.
2) “it’s through pressurized skin so its really bad” No, not really. Repairs through pressurized skin are VERY common. A repair design engineer just has to consider pressurization loads (which aren’t actually that bad considering A/C are only pressurized to 7-8 psi) and fatigue due to pressure cycles when he/she is sizing parts.
3) “It’s the worst place to hit it” There are many worse. Lots of avionics there, yes, but no hydraulics, no fuel, and the loads are quite low. Structurally, this is probably one of the best spots to hit it actually. The entire fuselage forward of the wing acts like a cantilever beam in flight. The highest loads in that section are just forward of the wing box because all of the weight of everything forward is hanging off there. The further forward you go, the less weight hanging off, the less load going through the structure. Additionally the landing gear is aft of the damage so there are no loads to hold up the plane going through there.
4) “It’s screwed because the cockpit windows & doors won’t open/close.” again, not really. Just because parts have shifted doesn’t mean they have permanently deformed (read: lost their strength). Watch a wing next time you’re flying, it’ll flex up and down all flight long. Say you tried to take a removable panel off the wing in flight (ignoring the obvious lack of oxygen and wind of course) while the wings were flexed upward, it wouldn’t come off due to everything being preloaded, or “flexed upward.” It doesn’t mean anything has been structurally compromised. While on the ground the aircraft relies on the structure on the bottom of the nose to hold things in place, but since it’s not there, it flexed a little and the surrounding structure is picking up the load. If we designed airplanes to be so rigid that nothing flexed they would be so heavy nothing would ever get off the ground.
Conclusion: if I were working this repair, I would recommend replacement of a lot of structure, but I’d be negligent/lazy if tried to write the aircraft off. Remember, (most) airplanes are just a bunch of sheets of aluminum riveted together. If someone riveted it together in a factory, they can take it apart and rivet it back together in the field. Worst case, Airbus pulls a bunch of structure from the assembly line about to go on an airplane and replaces the entire nose forward of approx the cockpit seats.
So, it looks like this plane might fly again. I’m no airplane mechanic for sure, but I’m intrigued by these thoughts and the process by which this plane will be fixed. Now, that’s not to say I want to actually be flying on this plane the day it comes out of the shop, but it still makes an interesting story nonetheless. 🙂
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