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Airframe was Michael Crighton'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:
- Asshole Victim: The epilogue mentions that Bob Richman was arrested in Singapore for drug possession and is facing the death sentence.
- Ace Pilot: John Zheng, 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.
- 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.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Dick Shenk acts like a Nice Guy in public, but is really a ratings obsessed Jerkass. This also applies to 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 Eleven: 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, though it is subverted when it turns out the guy flying the plane was actually causing the problem due to his lack of experience.
- Intrepid Reporter: Marty Rearan projects this image, but it's actually his producer, Jennifer Malone, who finds the stories and does the investigating.
- Jerkass: Marty, Malone, Marder, Shenk, and Richman.
- Karma Houdini: Shenk.
- 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.
- Shown Their Work: As usual for Michael Crichton.
- Smug Snake: Richman, though he does know that Casey could endanger his and Marder’s plan.
- Yet Another Baby Panda: Shenk is eager to get the Norton story so he doesn't get stuck with one of these.