A UPS 747-8 freighter had to return to Hong Kong yesterday after an engine caught fire during its climb out of the airport. Pilots received a warning of fire, and deployed the onboard suppressant system, but the warning persisted. On the ground, the aircraft was met by the airport’s fire service, which extinguished the blaze in a short time.
A Boeing 747-8F operated by UPS Airlines was climbing out from Hong Kong for a flight to Dubai yesterday when the crew received a warning from one of the engines. At around 400 feet altitude, the number 1 engine, under the left wing, warned it was ‘exceeding limits’ suggesting it was starting to overheat. By 1,500 feet, that had changed to a fire warning.
The crew discharged both fire bottles into the engine in an attempt to stop the fire. However, the warning persisted, and it was clear it was time to return to the ground. Normally, an aircraft fueled up for such a trip would need to burn fuel before returning to the airport, but given the urgency of the situation, this was not an option.
The aircraft returned directly to the airport and made a safe overweight landing. According to the Aviation Herald, it landed at around 426 tons, well over its maximum landing weight of 350 tons. Nevertheless, the aircraft came to a safe stop around 2,500 meters down the runway, just 15 minutes after it had departed.
— Breaking Aviation News & Videos (@aviationbrk) July 21, 2021
The airport’s fire crew were waiting for the aircraft as it returned to the airport, and proceeded to tackle the blaze. Images show fire retardant foam being sprayed liberally onto the aircraft’s engine, successfully extinguishing the fire shortly after landing. The crew are reported to be fine, but the aircraft will remain at Hong Kong pending repairs.
A modern Queen
The aircraft, registration N624UP, is one of 23 747-8Fs operated by UPS Airlines. It’s under two years of age, having been delivered to UPS new in October 2019. Its engines are General Electric GEnx-2B67 powerplants, modern and very new units.
So what could cause a fire such as this in a relatively new and modern 747? While there will inevitably be some investigation into the cause of the incident, there are a number of factors that could have led to the engine fire. A bird strike could have contributed to it, or a loose fuel line. Uncontained engine failures can sometimes lead to fire, but from the images shared from the scene, the engine appears to be pretty much intact.
According to AOPA, oil fires usually produce a lot of black smoke, whereas fuel fires burn bright orange. As we can see, this was definitely on the bright orange side of things, suggesting fuel was involved in feeding the fire.
— Big-D (@bigdlindbergh) July 21, 2021
Whatever the cause of the incident, the crew did an incredible job in getting the 747-8 back to the ground just 15 minutes after takeoff. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and aside from engine damage, the Queen is just fine. Undoubtedly, once maintenance has been undertaken, she’ll be back flying cargo missions once again.