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Airframe by Michael Crichton


by Michael Crichton

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A fast paced story about an investigation into an incident involving an airplane 37000 feet above sea level causing the deaths of 4 persons and injuries to 56 others. The story follows few different people including Casey Singleton, a VIP of the manufacturer and the Quality Assurance liason to the Incident Review Team. She is also eventually tasked with dealing with the press.

What follows is an entire investigation to figure out what went wrong in a truncated time table due to looming pressure from an impending sale to China that could not only save the company but ensure it has enough cashflow to develop the next airframe. Thrown into the mix is the european authorites trashing the plane, the press trying to run a story on the deathtrap of a plane, the union workers being disgruntled because work may be shipped overseas, and some industrial espionage trying to derail everything for personal gain.

Making the read very fast, each "chapter" is broken down by scene location as well as days of the week. Characters come in and out and although it takes a few mentions to remember, as they are referenced throughout they are all memorable...at least until the storry is finished. Without context I probably could not name all of the characters that had speaking roles, and the book is still fresh in my head.

Crichton at his best, this novel throws a lot of aero jargon, but it is presented in a way that is accessible to anyone that has an understanding of machines and manufacturing facilites. Lesser characters that were unknowledgeable were used by Crichton as a way to explain things about the plane and about the incident without it appearing as if it was just some sort of data dump to the reader.

I was happy enough with how the ending turned out, especially as Crichton framed the "where are they now" segment at the end in the form of press articles or newspaper stories, and it was something that was planted in the beginning but I admit I did not pick up on specifically until it was revealed. That the pilot, John Chang was not actually piloting, but not that it could be his son. I did not pick up on the double "Chang" on the manifest, especially with the carrier coverup of the names At one point, actually for most of the time, I was hoping both Singleton and the producer Jennifer Malone would be able to share some of the victory, whatever the ending would be, but definitely by the end, Malone was just too hardheaded and stubborn to be completely likable.

A great story, even if it read a little dated at times since it was written in the mid 90s: beepers/pagers?? ( )
  T4NK | Sep 30, 2014 |
An airliner travelling from China to the US has an in-air incident, first characterized as turbulence but costing 3 lives plus more than 50 injuries. What follows is an investigation by the plane manufacturer...amidst some contentious opinions from air travel pundits The plane had a well-documented flaw, and everyone was quick to jump on it as the cause. But airliners are designed with redundant systems, and failure is often a series of unlikely, cascading events.

Casey Singleton, an executive for the airplane manufacturer, is charged with leading the investigation. It is not, however, a single investigation of an isolated event. While this is going on, China, the owner of the plane in question, has a contract proposal for a lot of planes that Casey's company is the front-runner. There are some that do not want this deal to go through -- and in her own company! The unions and one upper executive in particular are setting her up to be the fall guy. On top of this, the leading news show is doing a piece -- and seems intent on taking down her company.

The late Michael Crichton could write the phone book and make it interesting. While some of the technology covered is already dated (noticeable only by frequent fliers), the story was nevertheless riveting and entertaining. I haven't read all of Crichton's books yet, but I haven't been disappointed by anything that wasn't published before his death. ( )
  JeffV | Aug 26, 2014 |
I'd forgotten how good Crichton's books were and this one is pretty great. It's written from the point of view of Casey a divorced Mom who's a Quality Assurance VP at the fictional Norton Company.

It's an airplane crash thriller with one big change, there's technically no crash of the plan. Which I think makes the story more interesting. Like a murder mystery without a murder.

And this book is a bit of a mystery. Mostly it's a thriller, there are veiled threats from the union at the plant, and brainy thrills as Casey tries to stay ahead of what seems like a plane full of people with all different agendas.

The plot is good, but what's really great about Airframe is Crichton's writing. In this book and in his others he had this knack for putting the science/engineering/technical details in there and not making it all seem like part of the story and not just an exposition dump.

I do wish that there'd been a bit more at the end, the conclusion and tying up of all the stories seemed a bit rushed. Not to mention Crichton never really tied up the ex-husband and their child story which I thought was an interesting subplot. ( )
  DanieXJ | Nov 27, 2013 |
This is my first Crichton since the Andromeda Strain written so many years ago. Another reason to ignore the professional critics who have not been terribly kind to Crichton in the past few years. I really liked this book. It has a marvelous blend of science, information and a good plot that keeps the pages turning.

It’s interesting that many of the reviews I read focused on the aircraft industry. I think the book is more about the media and it’s relentless pursuit of the visual and the sound bite at the expense of truth and the whole picture more than about airplanes.

Enroute from Hong Kong to Denver, a brand new Norton-22, a plane clearly modeled on the Boeing 747, pitches and dives like a porpoise before being brought under control. The violent maneuvers kill three passengers and injures 56 others. . The airline's VP in charge of quality assurance — Casey Singleton — has to find out why, before more passengers and the airline's future go into a tailspin. As always in Crichton's expert hands, readers learn a lot about science while becoming enmeshed in the power-plays, office politics, and pressures of the global market and American jobs. Her job is complicated, because, as we gradually learn, powers within the company are trying to manipulate her and to embarrass the company so that the president of the company can be forced out in favor of another. Casey is saddled with a Norton family nephew who turns out to be a spy for one of the other company officers. We learn a great deal about aircraft manufacture and design — I must admit to really loving the technical detail — as Casey tries to figure out why the cockpit reports of turbulence differ from physical evidence of a “commanded slat deployment,” something, that even had it occurred at altitude and high speed should not have caused the plane to go out-of-control the way it appears to have done.

Crichton obviously doesn’t like lawyers, their stoolies (an ex-FAA employee who testifies for the plaintiffs in injury suits figures prominently in the media’s desire to create a nasty story) nor the media, and a character clearly modeled after Mike Wallace has few redeeming qualities. At one point Casey is to be interviewed by the Wallace character, Marty Reardon, and a company PR person comes by to help her prepare a little. “There’s only one more thing I can tell you, Katherine. You work in a complex business. If you try to explain that complexity to Marty, you’ll be frustrated. You’ll feel he isn’t interested. He’ll probably cut you off. Because he isn’t interested. A lot of people complain television lacks focus. But that’s the nature of the medium. Television’s not about information at all. Information is active, engaging. Television is passive. Information is disinterested, objective. Television is emotional. It’s entertainment. . . . [Marty’s:] paid to exercise his one reliable talent: provoking people, getting them to make an emotional outburst, to lose their temper, to say something outrageous. He doesn’t really want to know about airplanes. He wants a media moment.”

Casey’s father was a journalist and an old friend of his remarks at the end of the book, “Used to be — in the old days-- the media image roughly corresponded to reality. But now it’s all reversed. The media image is the reality, and by comparison day-to-day life seems to lack excitement. So now day-to-day life is false, and the media image is true. Sometimes I look around my living room, and the most real thing in the room is the television. It’s bright and vivid, and the rest of my life looks drab. So I turn the damn thing off. That does it every time. Get my life back.”

( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
A dull story line. Definitely not his best. ( )
  Snukes | Jun 14, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Michael Crichtonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kankaanpää, JaakkoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Crichton bevestigt definitief zijn briljante gevoel voor timing....de bittere overlevingsstrijd in de vliegtuigindustrie sluit naadloos aan op het voorpaginanieuws.
For Sonny Mehta
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Emily Jansen sighed in relief.
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Die krengen wegen tweehonderdvijftig ton, vliegen in drie vluchten de wereld rond en vervoeren passagiers op een comfortabeler en veiliger manier dan welk voertuig dan ook in de geschiedenis der mensheid. En wilden jullie ons nou echt vertellen hoe we ons werk beter kunnen doen? Wilden jullie beweren dat jullie er ook maar iets van weten? Volgens mij willen jullie alleen maar onrust zaaien, om wat voor persoonlijke reden dan ook. (Luchtvaartlegende Charley Norton (78) tijdens een interview na een vliegtuigongeluk in 1970)
Het ironische van het informatietijdperk is dat het een nieuw soort aanzien verleend heeft aan ongefundeerde meningen. (Verslaggever John Lawton (68) in een toespraak tot de American Association of Broadcast Journalists in 1995.)
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CAUTION- SPOILER ALERT - wikipedia.com- 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 inexplicable. 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, after a test flight was done to prove Casey's theory, 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 father 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 sale to China goes through and the company remains in operation.

Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345402871, Mass Market Paperback)

Cruising 35,000 feet above the earth, a twin-engine commercial jet encounters an accident that leaves 3 dead, 56 wounded, and the cabin in shambles. What happened? With a multi-billion-dollar company-saving deal on the line, Casey Singleton is sent by her hard-driving boss to uncover the mysterious circumstances that led to the disaster before more people die. But someone doesn't want her to find the truth. Airframe bristles with authentic information, technical jargon, and the command of detail Crichton's readers have come to expect. Check out Amazon.com's Airframe feature and read an excerpt from the book!

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:59 -0400)

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Following a series of plane crashes and passenger deaths a frenzied high pressure investigation is ordered with some surprising results.

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