FedEx MD 11 Loses Nose Wheel Departing San Antonio

An older FedEx Express McDonnell Douglas MD-11F has lost its right forward wheel during takeoff, with the crew only realizing once the aircraft had landed. The FAA is reporting that the wheel came loose during departure from San Antonio.

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A FedEx MD-11 has lost its wheel in flight. Photo: Tomas Del Coro via Flickr

What are the details?

According to the Aviation Herald, a FedEx Express McDonnell Douglas MD-11 freighter, with the tail registration N619FE, was performing a routine flight FX-454 from San Antonio, Texas, to Memphis, Tennessee.

The flight path of the aircraft. Photo: Flight Aware

The three crew members landed the aircraft at Memphis after 85 minutes in the air, with no apparent problems in flight. It was then spotted that one of the front wheels of the MD-11F was gone. Specifically, the right wheel was missing with the aircraft resting on the remaining left wheel.

Notice the front right wheel in this photo. That is the one that vanished. Occurrence aircraft not pictured. Photo: RAF-YYC via Wikipedia

The FAA has ruled this event as an aviation accident, and commented that the “Aircraft lost right nose gear on departure”. It is being reported by the Aviation Herald that the FAA deemed this substantial damage to the airframe. The aircraft has been grounded in the last three days since the event on the 7th of April, 2020.

How did this happen?

It is curious as to how the three crew members onboard the aircraft failed to realize that one of the wheels had fallen off.

Typically aircraft built today have what is known as a TPIS sensor (Tire Pressure Indicator System). These sensors check to see how much pressure is in the tires (among other things), and if the whole wheel is missing then it returns an error. This particular MD-11F, built back in 1996 specifically for FedEx Express, may have not had these sensors installed, although the MD-11 series did have the technology at the time.

These sensors are commonly replaced due to wear and tear, and can cost an airline thousands of dollars over the lifetime of an aircraft. It is possible that the sensor was not active or had malfunctioned, but this is pure speculation. We will need to wait for the official report about this incident from the FAA and FedEx.

Simple Flying reached out to FedEx to enquire about the damage to the aircraft and how this could have happened:

“FedEx Express Flight 464 from San Antonio, Texas, to Memphis, Tennessee, landed safely on Tuesday, April 7, after experiencing a mechanical issue with a nose wheel during takeoff. Maintenance is evaluating the aircraft.”

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A FedEx MD-11 touching down in Alaska. Photo: Frank Kovalchek via Wikipedia

Bottom line

In this current aviation crisis, cargo freighters such as this MD-11F are more critical than ever, and the grounding of a single aircraft will have echos throughout the logistical supply chain. We hope that FedEx is able to fix the damage and get the aircraft back in the air.

FedEx Express deploys 52 MD-11Fs and is slowly replacing them with Boeing 767-300ERFs and Boeing 777Fs. The MD-11s are used on short-haul to medium-haul routes across the United States, transporting goods to FedEx’s main logistic hubs.

What do you think? What do you think happened to the wheel? Let us know in the comments.