Airframe (novel)

Airframe (novel)

infobox Book |
name = Airframe
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover
author = Michael Crichton
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Techno-thriller, Science fiction
publisher = Century Books & Ballantine Books
release_date = 1996
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 352 pp (Paperback edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-09-955631-6 (Paperback edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-679-44648-6 (Hardback edition)
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Airframe" is a novel by Michael Crichton, first published in hardback edition in 1996 and as a paperback edition in 1997 by Ballantine Books. The plot follows Casey Singleton, a quality assurance vice-president at the fictional aerospace manufacturer Norton Aircraft, as she investigates an in-flight accident aboard a Norton-manufactured airliner that leaves three passengers dead and fifty-six injured.

In "Airframe", as in most of his novels, Crichton uses the false document literary device, presenting numerous technical documents to create a sense of authenticity. Several real-life incidents are also explored; the accident itself is closely modeled on a 1993 accident aboard a McDonnell-Douglas MD-11. []

Plot summary

The novel opens aboard Hong Kong based Transpacific Airlines flight 545, (a Norton Aircraft-manufactured N-22), inbound to Denver. An incident occurs about a half hour off the California Coastline and the pilot requests an emergency landing at Los Angeles stating that the plane encountered "severe turbulence" in midflight. The pilot gives air traffic control conflicting information regarding the type and severity of injuries, but does inform them that crew members were hurt and "three passengers are dead".

The incident seems unexplained. The N-22 is a plane with an excellent safety record, and the pilot is highly trained, ruling out the possibility of human error. Passengers and flight crew give concurring accounts of the circumstances of the disaster, and the most likely explanation turns out to be a technical problem that was fixed years ago.

The accident takes place at a bad time for Norton Aircraft. Norton is on the verge of concluding an eight-billion-dollar sale of N-22 aircraft to the Chinese government. Should the N-22's safety record be questioned, the Chinese government might cancel the sale. Norton, already hit hard by the economic recession, desperately needs the deal to go through so the company can survive.

With only a week left until the deal is signed, Casey Singleton, a Vice President for Norton Aircraft in charge of the Quality Assurance Incident Review Team, must find out what happened on the plane while dealing with disgruntled Union workers.

A videotape showing footage of the incident appears on CNN, where it is seen by the producer of Newsline, a television news magazine. Hoping for her own story, the producer attempts to discredit Casey and Norton Aircraft.

Eventually, the cause of the disaster turns out to be a combination of faulty and counterfeit parts and human error. While in flight, the airplane's computer and safety systems worked perfectly, detected the fault, and attempted to automatically correct the plane to compensate.

The pilot had let his son, also a pilot, take the controls. Just before the incident, while the pilot was out of the cockpit, an error was detected and the autopilot attempted to engage. The son, being less experienced and not certified for the N-22, panicked and tried repeatedly to fly against the autopilot, causing the catastrophic accident.

The airline attempts to cover up the story, but due to Casey's persistence the whole situation is brought to light. The "China sale" goes through and the company remains in operation.

Characters in "Airframe"

*Casey Singleton – a Quality assurance vice-president
*Bob Richman – Casey Singleton's assistant
*John Marder – Chief Operating Officer
*Harold Edgarton – President of Norton Aircraft
*Dick Shenk – Segment Organizer for "Newsline"
*Marty Reardon – Interviewer for "Newsline"
*Jennifer Malone – Segment Producer for "Newsline"

Major themes

Airline safety procedures are a central theme in the novel, and facts and statistics from real-world accidents are often used to flesh out the story. For example, the crash of American Airlines Flight 191 and its causes are accurately described in the novel. The book repeatedly stresses the safety and reliability of modern commercial passenger aircraft, and challenges the public perception of aircraft safety.

Another central theme is investigative journalism, and the consequences when sensational media agencies distort the truth to produce a better-selling story.

The book also continues Crichton's overall theme of the failure of humans in human-machine interaction. The plane itself worked perfectly, and had the pilot known how to react, the accident would never have happened. The situation described in the novel was probably inspired by the real-life crash of Aeroflot Flight 593. On March 23, 1994 an Aeroflot Airbus A310-304, flying from Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO) to Hong Kong's former Hong Kong international airport (Kai Tak Airport), crashed into a hillside in Siberia. All 75 passengers and crew were killed. The flight cockpit voice recorder revealed that the pilot's 15-year-old son had been at the controls at the time the plane suffered its drop.

External links

* [ "Airframe" webpage]

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