Literature / Airframe

Airframe was Michael Crichton's eleventh novel, in which he tackles common misconceptions about flying accidents while at the same time taking shots at an overly-sensational news media. Utilizing his usual technical details, it met with mostly positive responses, some people going so far as to say they actually felt better about flying after reading it.

On a routine flight across the Pacific, a Norton N-22 airliner encounters what the pilot describes as "severe turbulence," bad enough to kill three people and injure dozens more. As the plane lands, the Norton investigation team begins looking into the incident and trying to determine what happened. It falls to Casey Singleton to find out what happened, while preserving the name and reputation of the company as the news media begin to get wind of what happened and start nosing around.

Airframe contains examples of:

  • Ace Pilot: The Captain of the flight was one of the best in the world, and how this could have happened while he was flying is one of the central questions of the investigation. Turns out he wasn't flying it at all. Norton test pilot Ted Rawley also qualifies.
  • Asshole Victim: Bob Richman gets arrested and is implied to face the death penalty in Singapore.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Malone demands to be on the plane when Norton recreates the incident. She winds up regretting it.
  • Being Good Sucks: Casey is feeling this way toward the end of the book. She's been trying to do the right thing throughout and all she has to show for her efforts are a couple of videos showing the terrifying ride, she's being hounded by reporters who sense blood in the water, and it turns out she's been set up to take the fall if the plane is discredited.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Marder and Richman
  • Coming In Hot: The pilot requests a total of forty ambulances to meet them on the ground.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Marder and Richman both qualify.
  • Death in the Clouds: Three, later four, to be precise.
  • Film at 11: Casey points this out as the main reason news networks will cover some plane accidents but leave others alone.
  • Guile Hero: Casey turns out to be one.
  • Improbable Piloting Skills: Everyone is amazed that the pilot is able to land the plane after what it went through. This turns out to be a key clue in what really happened: the pilot's son, himself a pilot, took over for his father when he went to take a coffee break, and proceeded to cause the disaster by over-correcting an altitude warning, thanks to his inexperience with the plane. Eventually the son passed out and the plane's autopilot finally took over, enabling the crew to land the plane safely.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Marty Reardon projects this image, but it's actually his producer, Jennifer Malone, who finds the stories and does the investigating.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Marder.
  • Prime Time News: Newsline is a fictional example.
  • The Reveal: The accident was actually caused by the Captain's son, who although a pilot, was not qualified for the N-22. When a simple problem occurred, he panicked and turned a simple situation into a disaster.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The cause of the accident is loosely based on a real life Russian crash, which unfortunately yielded worse results than in the book.
  • Shown Their Work: As usual for Michael Crichton.
  • Smug Snake: Bob Richman.
  • Take That!: One of the engineers is described as a temperamental, grumpy, elitist manchild... which, the narration notes, is true of many engineers.
  • Yet Another Baby Panda: Malone's boss is eager to get the Norton story so he doesn't get stuck with one of these.