Mary Elizabeth Williams
Time Warner Disney Dreamworks Fox-Murdoch Turner Ventures, Inc.
From: Ken Sprenkel, CEO
To: Michael Wilson, Senior VP, Production
I've just looked at the first galleys of Airframe, and I'm pleased to announce that Mike has gone and done it again. Airframe is going to be the biggest-grossing film of 1998. (The sequel to Mikey's Jurassic Park comes out in '97, right? Har har.) Let's just keep our fingers crossed that the FAA doesn't do anything stupid to step up air safety any time soon - a big disaster, timed to the release of the film, would be boffo.
The story's great - a charter airline from Hong Kong (political statement? may need to rework) gets into some fatal turbulence (fatal turbulence! how does Crich come up with them?), and lands with a couple of passengers who've permanently cashed in their frequent flier miles. Of course this happens the same week the plane's American manufacturer is about to close a big sale with China - a sale that might or might not cost those hard-working union Yanks their jobs. What's right? What's wrong? Who's at fault for the disaster? (Don't worry - it isn't too morally ambiguous for the average Joe).
I see either Sharon or Michelle in the lead as Casey, the gutsy but feminine quality control investigator. Michael Douglas was born to play the nefarious Norton Aircraft CEO John Marder. We're talking Oscar here. Plus there's meaty roles for the ambitious, backstabbing underling (get McConaughey's agent on the phone TODAY), and the scandal digging TV producer (I think either Gwyneth or Liv here, your thoughts?).
Obviously, we'll have to gut those pages and pages of aviation terminology - BOR-ing! Mike can get so heavy-handed with that stuff. Which reminds me, let's try to negotiate him down on the fee for writing the screenplay. I mean, frankly, he's already done it. Read the book, you'll see. If he won't play ball, we'll threaten to get Eszterhas to tweak it. -- Salon
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like his role model, H.G. Wells, Crichton likes to moralize in his novels. In this slight, enjoyable thriller, the moral is the superficiality of TV, especially of its simplistic news coverage. Readers willing to overlook the irony of this message being broadcast by the man who created TV's top-rated drama (E.R.) will marvel again at Crichton's uncanny commercial instincts. The event that launches the story, conceived long before TWA Flight 800's last takeoff, is an airline disaster. Why did a passenger plane "porpoise"-pitch and dive repeatedly-enroute from Hong Kong to Denver, killing four and injuring 56? That's what Casey Singleton, v-p for quality assurance for Norton Aircraft, has to find out fast. If Norton's design is to blame, its imminent deal with China may collapse, and the huge company along with it. With Casey as his unsubtle focus-she's one of the few Crichton heroines, an all-American gal who's more plot device than character-Crichton works readers through a brisk course in airline mechanics and safety. The accretion of technical detail, though fascinating, makes for initially slow reading that speeds up only fitfully when Casey is menaced by what seem to be union men angry over the Chinese deal. But as she uncovers numerous anomalies about the accident, and as high corporate intrigue and a ratings-hungry TV news team enter the picture, the plot complicates and suspense rises, peaking high above the earth in an exciting re-creation of the flight. It's possible that Crichton has invented a new subgenre here-the industrial thriller-despite elements (video-generated clues, for one) recycled from his earlier work. It's certain that, while this is no Jurassic Park, he's concocted another slick, bestselling, cinema-ready entertainment.
On the heels of several timely successes (e.g., The Lost World, Audio Reviews, LJ 11/15/95) comes this latest novel from Crichton, which, contrary to what you may have been led to believe by the hype, should reassure even the most jaded U.S. air traveler. The tale begins with the problematic flight of a foreign carrier, during which the plane dives and climbs rapidly for unknown reasons. Although the plane lands safely, several people are killed. Enter Casey Singleton and a team of investigators from Norton Aircraft, manufacturer of the airframe, who must search for the cause. Crichton's talent lies in making arcane sciences fascinating to even the most spirited Luddite, and fans won't be disappointed by his descriptions of the technology employed in the making of passenger planes and, in particular, the precision with which the aircraft's wings are designed. Blair Brown does a nice job with the narration. Most popular collections should have a copy or two.-Mark Annichiarico, "Library Journal"
School Library Journal
YA-Crichton's newest novel is billed as a "technical thriller" but the technology seems to outweigh the thrills. Casey Singleton is called upon to lead the investigation of the near air disaster of Flight 545. The pilot landed the plane safely but three passengers were killed. All of the evidence is conflictingthe pilot attributed the incident to turbulence but there was none. The flight attendant says the pilot fought the autocontrol but he didn't. What really happened to this flight? As Casey tries to piece the puzzle together, a national TV network plans an expos of the accident. The program is not focused on the truth but rather on discrediting the airline. Casey's race against time is further complicated when attempts are made on her life. Airframe is full of technical jargon and explanations of how airplanes fly and why they sometimes don't. Crichton incorporates enough suspense to keep readers going but a degree in engineering would be helpful in understanding this novel.Katherine Fitch, Lake Braddock Middle School, Burke, VA
Read an Excerpt
Airframe Chapter 3
Daniel Greene was the duty officer at the FAA Flight Standards District Office on Imperial Highway, half a mile from LAX. The local FSDOs--or Fizdos, as they were called--supervised the flight operations of commercial carriers, checking everything from aircraft maintenance to pilot training. Greene had come in early to clear the paper off his desk; his secretary had quit the week before, and the office manager refused to replace her, citing orders from Washington to absorb attrition. So now Greene went to work, muttering. Congress was slashing the FAA budget, telling them to do more with less, pretending the problem was productivity and not workload. But passenger traffic was up four percent a year, and the commercial fleet wasn't getting younger. The combination made for a lot more work on the ground. Of course, the FSDOs weren't the only ones who were strapped. Even the NTSB was broke; the Safety Board only got a million dollars a year for aircraft accidents, and--
The red phone on his desk rang, the emergency line. He picked it up; it was a woman at traffic control.
"We've just been informed of an incident on an inbound foreign carrier," she said.
"Uh-huh." Greene reached for a notepad. "Incident" had a specific meaning to the FAA, referring to the lower category of flight problems that carriers were required to report. "Accidents" involved deaths or structural damage to the aircraft and were always serious, but with incidents, you never knew. "Go ahead."
"It's TransPacific Flight 545, incoming from Hong Kong to Denver. Pilot's requested emergency landing at LAX. Says they encountered turbulence during flight."
"Is the plane airworthy?"
"They say it is," Levine said. "They've got injuries, and they've requested forty ambulances."
"They've also got two stiffs."
"Great." Greene got up from his desk. "When's it due in?"
"Eighteen minutes--Jeez, why am I getting this so late?"
"Hey, the captain just told us, we're telling you. I've notified EMS and alerted the fire crews."
"Fire crews? I thought you said the plane's okay."
"Who knows?" the woman said. "The pilot is not making much sense. Sounds like he might be in shock. We hand off to the tower in seven minutes."
"Okay," Greene said. "I'm on my way."
He grabbed his badge and his cell phone and went out the door. As he passed Karen, the receptionist, he said, "Have we got anybody at the international terminal?"
"Beep him," Greene said. "Tell him to get on TPA 545, inbound Hong Kong, landing in fifteen. Tell him to stay at the gate--and don't let the flight crew leave."
"Got it," she said, reaching for the phone.
Greene roared down Sepulveda Boulevard toward the airport. Just before the highway ran beneath the runway, he looked up and saw the big TransPacific Airlines widebody, identifiable by its bright yellow tail insignia, taxiing toward the gate. TransPacific was a Hong Kong-based charter carrier. Most of the problems the FAA had with foreign airlines occurred with charters. Many were low-budget operators that didn't match the rigorous safety standards of the scheduled carriers. But TransPacific had an excellent reputation.
At least the bird was on the ground, Greene thought. And he couldn't see any structural damage to the widebody. The plane was an N-22, built by Norton Aircraft in Burbank. The plane had been in revenue service five years, with an enviable dispatch and safety record.
Greene stepped on the gas and rushed into the tunnel, passing beneath the giant aircraft.
He sprinted through the international building. Through the windows, he saw the TransPacific jet pulled up to the gate, and the ambulances lined up on the concrete below. The first of them was already driving out, its siren whining.
Greene came to the gate, flashed his badge, and ran down the ramp. Passengers were disembarking, pale and frightened. Many limped, their clothes torn and bloody. On each side of the ramp, paramedics clustered around the injured.
As he neared the plane, the nauseating odor of vomit grew stronger. A frightened TransPac stewardess pushed him back at the door, chattering at him rapidly in Chinese. He showed her his badge and said, "FAA! Official business! FAA!" The stewardess stepped back, and Greene slid past a mother clutching an infant and stepped into the plane.
He looked at the interior, and stopped. "Oh my God," he said softly. "What happened to this plane?"
From the Hardcover edition.