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Book Review: “Fly by Wire”


William Langewiesche


(Book reviews in the Tailwheeler’s Journal are normally written by Gayle Crowder.  I’ll find a book that impresses me, send it to Gayle and she will read it and write an impressive, detailed review.  I wanted to give her a break because I know she’s still settling into her new job with Oregon Aero.  But I wanted to share this recently-discovered book with our readers, so I wrote it myself.  I’ll prevail upon her to write the next one.  B.L.)

If you’ve never heard the name “William Langewiesche”, you’ve been missing out on something. You’ve been missing the work of a very fine writer. Perhaps I initially paid attention to this guy because of his last name. Does “Langewiesche” sound familiar to you? It should. His father was Wolfgang Langewiesche,

William Langewiesche (courtesy “The Colbert Report”)

whose treatise, “Stick and Rudder”, is required reading for anyone who comes to Tailwheel Town.

I first became familiar with William Langewiesche when listening to an interview with him on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. I learned that he’d made a living as a pilot.  Then I started watching for his byline and realized that this guy was a helluva journalist. Later, my friend, Steve Oliver (The world’s greatest Aviator), would tip me off to the fact that Langewiesche’s article about Felix Baumgartner’s record-setting parachute jump in Vanity Fair was perhaps the best treatment of that event .  Steve and I had

Joe Kittinger (l) was a crucial part of the team behind Felix Baumgartner’s record-setting jump. Joe was the previous record holder.

felt that our friend Joe Kittinger, the previous record holder, was unfairly left out of other accounts.  Langewiesche, with his usual attention to detail, didn’t miss that fact.

More recently, I picked up a copy of “Fly by Wire”, his account of “the Miracle on the Hudson”. He impressed me all over again with his ability to pick up on things others missed, as well as his fair treatment of all involved in that ditching of the Airbus A320 in the Hudson River.  The event also introduced America’s newest hero, Chesley Sullenberger.  Langewiesche gives us inciteful details about this quiet celebrity  in addition to his first officer, Jeff Skiles.

Perhaps no part of this book grabbed my attention as much as this one.  In speaking of airline pilots, Langewiesche may just as well have been describing all those “Acme Flying School” instructors who I find so frustrating:  “More fundamentally, they spend year after year deep inside the flight envelope, within the narrow range of maneuver that delivers smooth and safe rides to the passengers. They are good at that job… and often superb.  But the consequence of working so far from the extremes is to allow almost all of them to believe that they are full masters of flying, when only a small percentage of them actually are.” Bingo!  Well put. I wish I could write and research as well as William Langewiesche.


I highly recommend “Fly by Wire” to all my readers. According to the back cover of the book, Langewiesche is the writer of at least six other books. Probably more, as this one’s been around for a while. He’s also the writer of innumerable magazine articles. If you see his byline, read it.

Excuse me. I’m heading to Amazon to order a couple of Langewiesche books!

Happy Swooping,