Tail Strikes

Tail Strikes


A Tail Strike on an aircraft occurs when the rear end (Tail) of an aircraft touches (strikes) the runway during either the take-off or landing phase.


The 3 images below depict the manifestation of aircrafts encountering a tail strike. Notice the sparks and smoke emanating from the tail as it scrapes the runway.

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Picture Embedded from WDR on 1 Oct 09 Picture embedded from EADS on 1 Oct 09 Picture embedded from Airliners on 1 Oct 09

Resultant Effects/ Damage

Picture Embedded from FlightGlobal on 1 Oct 09
  • Detrimental to Flight Safety
    • In most cases depending on the severity of the damage, aircraft that has just taken off would have to return for an emergency landing
  • Structural Damage to Airframe
    • As depicted by the damage to the tail section (normally the aft pressure bulkhead) shown in the 2 images above
  • Long Maintenance and Inspection Schedule
    • A longer time is needed to rectify the aircraft to bring the aircraft back to service
  • Financial Loss for airline
    • Airlines make money with aircraft that are flying and not with them held up in hangars getting rectified [2]

Causes of Tail Strikes

Pilot Errors are the main cause with 65% of tail Strikes occur at landing and 25% occurs during take offs.

Landing Phase

Unstabilized Approach to the Runway [3]

  • During final approach at a low altitude, too low a speed results in an aircraft having an excessive nose high attitude; compounded by the need for pilots to flare the aircraft for landing, would result in a tail strike due to inadequate separation with the tail and ground.
  • A sudden increase in sink rate of the aircraft just prior to landing would also cause pilots to adopt a nose high attitude to prevent a heavy landing, causing a tail strike.
  • A pilot who flares the aircraft too high during landing

Take Off Phase

Techniques in Rotation [4]

  • Poor rotation techniques either due to an early rotation at an inappropriate speed and late rotation resulting in sudden rapid corrections both cause a high pitch attitude and subsequent tail strike.
  • Heavy aircraft with poor thrust to weight ratio hampers the performance of aircraft during take off
  • The proper selection of flaps configuration gives the aircraft added lift for take off and reduces an excessive high pitch attitude


  • Flight Crew Training
    • With the proper training, both in simulators and in training flights, pilots will be able to learn to fly stabilized approaches, be vigilant in using correct flap configuration and selection of proper thrust to weight ratio; this would hence lead to the correct techniques adopted in avoiding excessive high pitch attitude and thus tailstrikes. [2]
  • Adherence of correct landing/ take off techniques [4]


It is imperative that after an aircraft suffers an tail strike, it is properly rectified and maintained thereafter due to the severe damage a tail strike causes to the rear pressure bulkhead. If not properly fixed, accidents will result as depicted in the two incidents below.

Crash of Japan Airlines Flight 123

(Video embedded from YouTube on 03 Oct 2009)

For a more comprehensive overview and analysis of this incident, please refer to Japan Airlines Flight 123

Crash of China Airlines Flight 611

For a more comprehensive overview and analysis of this incident, please refer to China Airlines Flight 611

1. Wikipedia(2009) Tailstrike. Retrieved from World Wide Web on 1 Oct 09. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tailstrike
2. Boeing (2008). Tail Strikes Prevention. Retrieved from World Wide Web on 1 Oct 09. http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/articles/qtr_1_07/article_02_1.html
3. Airbus(2007) Flight Operations Briefing Notes. Preventing Tailstrikes at Landing. http://www.skybrary.aero/bookshelf/books/180.pdf
4. Airbus(2005) Flight Operations Briefing Notes. Preventing Tailstrikes at Takeoff. http://www.skybrary.aero/bookshelf/books/195.pdf

Want to know more?

Avoiding Tail Strike
This presentation provides details on statistics with regard to tail strikes, its causes and how to prevent them.
Tail Strike Avoidance
This article provides a detailed summary of tail strikes.

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