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Customer Review

65 of 75 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much "fly by wire" hype, November 24, 2009
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This review is from: Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson (Hardcover)
As a retired airline pilot who flew both Boeing and Airbus aircraft, I was "teased" into reading this book by the implication that somehow the automation of the A320 was a major factor in the successful ditching. I had heard the author on a NPR radio interview extolling the virtues of the Airbus fly by wire system (which the author uses interchangeably for aircraft automation}, and I was hardpressed to see how this affected the outcome. After finishing the book, nothing the author wrote convinced me that the ditching would have been any less successful had Captain Sullenberger been flying a Boeing under the identical conditions. While the book was a quick and enjoyable read that provided some interesting insights into the airline world these days, I really didn't learn anything new about the accident and there was a lot of "padding" in areas of little interest - i.e. migratory geese. Another complaint I had with the book was the author's advocacy of the Airbus design philsophy that basically takes as much control away from the pilot as the engineers can achieve. It seemed to me that he was using the Hudson ditching as a validation of the Airbus design philosophy, when in reality, it was the captain's skill that brought about the successful outcome. The author gives ample credit to the pilots, but he also credits the Airbus automation with "keeping the wings level," and "preventing a stall" just before touchdown, both conditions easily controllable by a capable pilot. Clearly, the extent to which aircraft should be automated is a hotly debated topic among pilots, engineers and air safety experts, with Boeing engineers leaving considerably more control in the hands of the pilots that does Airbus. A book written on this topic with the pros and cons of each design philosophy would be most interesting and informative for the flying public, but this book proves nothing except that experience and skill in the cockpit are still the most important factor in air safety.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 3, 2010 6:44:03 PM PST
Captainrog says:
I agree and disagree with the review. Clearly William Langewiesche is taken by the Airbus design philosophy of flght envelope protection which has not been embraced by Boeing. That aside I enjoyed "Fly By Wire" enormously. The philosophical discussion regarding envelope protection will, I expect, go on for many generations and without a clear resolution one way or the other. I for one never flew the A-320 much to my regret. By the time I was eligible seniority wise I was to close to retirement so the company paid me A-320 rates to remain on the DC-9. In Langewiesches' book I liked his inclusion of the role of Bernard Ziegler, the Airbus engineer, who played in the scenario even in as sense on the final approach to the Hudson. I found the book well written and well researched. One can argue about the two philosophies, Boeing's and Airbus', add infinitum and I agree do with Shipman's comments about experience and skill. That will never change. But Sullenburger and Skiles did an outstanding job in the cockpit or this accident would have had a very different ending. I agree with Shipman about the chapter on migratory geese which I found superflous. All in all I give Langewiesche and "A". He's a good writer and it shows. For those with aviation background the book is a great read nd for those without it's still a good read.

Captain (Ret) Roger H Waldman

Langewiesche's description of the flight from the point of impact of the geese until touchdown on the Hudson had me rivited to the pages. I felt as though I was in that cockpit. That's the mark of a good writer who knew his subject.

Posted on Jan 13, 2010 6:39:49 PM PST
J. Thomas says:
Mr Shipman's comments are spot on. I do give the author credit for offering a unique insight into the Airbus design philosophy regarding FBW, however, I think the author clearly fails to connect the Airbus design features with the successful outcome of USAir 1549 using factual information and data, rather than his speculation. There was more than ample data available to the author from the Flight Data Recorder to come to a pointed and specific conclusion that the Airbus FBW features had engaged during the event and prevented some erroneous input from Capt Sullenberger that would have resulted in a catastrophic outcome otherwise - but no such detailed analysis of the data is in the book. Reality is that the FBW protection features that the author glowingly praises likely never engaged because Capt. Sullenberger's inputs required no intervention - they were correct for the situation, and likely from years of flying large heavy aircraft with vastly different glide ratios. This experience, not some grand FBW intervention, allowed the captain to guide the aircraft down to the river safely.
Again, I appreciate the author's opinion regarding those extremely rare cases where intervention might have made a difference, and where FBW protections are not bullet-proof given human interaction, but his choice of Flt 1549 and conclusions regarding the influence of FBW and his need for diminishing Capt. Sullenberger and the FO were premature and misdirected. His connection with 1549 was not germane to the FBW discussion, and to me, seemed to me to be a way to sell the book rather than enlighten the discussion.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 17, 2010 10:15:22 PM PST
I agree with this evaluation. While there were some examples in Langewiesches' book of instances where flight envelope protection might have saved the day, he never quite makes the case that envelope protection was a critical factor in the USAir 1549 flight. There's a lot of hand waving but very little solid evidence.

That said, this is an enjoyable read and it provided a lot of insight into the kinds of protections that Airbus incorporates and the debate surrounding them.

Posted on Jun 18, 2012 4:40:58 PM PDT
Thanks for this insightful review. Langewiesche is a talented writer, but he has the tendency to stretch the truth to fit his theme [Eggers is another one who does this]. In his 9/11 book [I read it when it was a long piece published in 'The Atlantic'.], he claimed that as the WTC burned, the firemen were looting on the mall level, and evidenced that a fire truck was found with the goods, so to speak, neatly folded and packed in the truck, ready to go. Now, my brother in-law is FDNY and he confirmed that some firefighters will do that, but never in a situation where civilians are in peril. The looting anecdote turned out to be an absolute lie. There are photos of this truck utterly crushed, with nothing neatly folded, and the bodies of the firefighters he accused were found at the elevators with the jaws of life, presumably trying to open the doors and evacuate. Langewiesche is not a McPhee; he hasn't the integrity. However, he IS an excellent writer, and I was torn about buying this book. But my husband, who knows the physics of flight, gave all the credit to Sullenberger. He said that it was Sullenberger's ability to do spatial and momentum calibrations in an instant that saved that plane and that the make of the plane was irrelevant in that specific situation. It seems Langwiesche has difficulty accepting that sometimes men are capable of taking competent and heroic actions in situations of unimaginable stress. Than you, Mr. Shipman--I'll pass.
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