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Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson Hardcover – November 10, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Much more than a straight retelling of U.S. Airways flight 1549's miraculous landing on the Hudson, Langewiesche's latest uses the story—and the heroism of pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles—as a lens through which to examine the advances in and flaws of modern air travel and piloting. David Drummond delivers a solid reading, relaying the detail-laden text—the backstories of the pilots, the technical information, the gripping blow-by-blow—with clarity and careful pacing. A subtle performance that enhances and never overwhelms the material. A Farrar, Straus & Giroux hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 9). (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Heroics take a backseat to analysis in this account of the January 2009 Hudson River ditching by an airliner disabled by a collision with birds. Without diminishing the flying feat of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, Langewiesche accentuates the attributes of the plane he flew, the Airbus A320. The first fly-by-wire passenger airliner, so called because the plane’s control surfaces move by electronic command, not by direct mechanical or hydraulic linkages, the A320 also had a stall-proof design feature that Langewiesche says contributed to the successful outcome of the accident. To explain these technological matters, which the adulation bestowed on Sullenberger perhaps obscured, Langewiesche took a field trip to France to interview the brains behind the fly-by-wire innovation. Amid his interview with Bernard Ziegler, Langewiesche declaims on several airliner accidents—one involving a loss of engine power similar to Sullenberger’s flight—that illustrate the author’s theme: pilots’ attitudes toward, and aptitude with, the computerized cockpit. Ziegler’s engineering philosophy, which is to make commercial flying idiot-proof, is contrasted with pilots’ attitudes, since they tend to resent technology that trumps their expertise. Langewiesche synthesizes everything into a breathtaking narrative of the now-famous landing in the Hudson. In contrast with Sullenberger’s memoir, Highest Duty (2009), this work’s discernment of underlying issues contributes depth to the feel-good story --Gilbert Taylor

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (November 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374157189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374157180
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #958,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on November 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
William Langewiesche's analysis of all the factors which contributed to the "Miracle on the Hudson" is a story that matches the events themselves in terms of excitement. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, pilot of the Airbus A320 which hit a flock of geese, lost both engines, and landed in the Hudson River with no loss of life on January 15, 2009, has rightly been lauded for his performance and has become a popular hero. But he was not alone in the making of this miracle. The plane itself contributed mightily to the successful outcome and the saving of the lives of all one hundred fifty passengers and five crew. Designed to remain stable under the most extraordinary conditions, the European-made Airbus is controlled by computerized systems which can not be over-ridden by pilots as they make split second moves during emergencies. "This marriage between electrical control circuits and digital computer [has become known] as fly-by-wire."

Langewiesche, an award-winning journalist and pilot, is at home with his subject, and he has interviewed virtually everyone who could give input into this story, creating a vibrant, lively, and thoughtful analysis of all the individual elements--including luck--which contributed to this happy ending. At the same time, he also analyzes some of the elements which may have led to the accident, including the issue of bird strikes throughout aviation history and why they happen. In his attempt to give the complete picture, Langewiesche also considers the financial problems of the airlines, the power of the pilots' unions, the comfortable relationship between the NTSB and the airlines and unions, and the competition between Airbus and Boeing.
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After reading "Fly By Wire" on a recent trip, I find it interesting to visit Amazon.com and see a recapitulation of the passionate debate that Langewiesche describes in his book. On the one hand, there are those who feel that "fly by wire" technology is overrated and perhaps even dangerous--these reviewers tend to give the book low marks and hard reviews, some of which strike me as a bit unfair. Other reviewers--admirers of Langewiesche's journalistic style or the cogent explanations that he offers--give him high grades. On balance, I enjoyed "Fly by Wire," but I can understand how it will hit some raw nerves.

For the record, Langewiesche has nothing but high praise for Captain Sullenberger and his crew. He agrees that they did a superb job under incredibly difficult conditions, and the fact that they did it in an Airbus A320 takes nothing away from their accomplishment. As near as I can tell, the crew of US Airways Flight 1549 are real heroes and deserve the praise they have received.

"Fly by wire" technology combines electrical control circuits and digital computers to replace traditional hydraulic and mechanical flight control systems. Langewiesche really "pokes the bear" and elicits a strong emotional response from many of his readers when he suggests that "fly by wire" was a major contributor to the Miracle on the Hudson. Readers who want their heroes to be like Beowulf, brave and omnisciently skilled, dislike the suggestion that Captain Sullenberger and his team may have been helped by the revolutionary design of the A320.
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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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