Friday, November 2, 2012




My, how the times are a changin’… Last night dozens of current and retired Black airline pilots, flight attendants and the Atlanta Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen assembled at an east Atlanta theater to watch a premier ( presented by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals- OBAP ) of the aviation catastrophe film, “Flight,” starring superstar actor, Denzel Washington. For those reading this who are already “white knuckle” passengers, you might want to skip this one. That’s not because it wasn’t a great Hollywood production but due to the horrifying scenarios offered to moviegoers.

Any professional pilot’s worst nightmare is being confronted with emergency situations in an aircraft that exceed the limits of the pilot’s capability and experience. In the movie “Flight” the audience gets a microscopic view of a pilot’s greatest horror in aviation, catastrophic mechanical failure of a tail section component in flight after flying out of severe turbulence. But that’s not the worst part of it; Capt “Whip” Williams, portrayed by Denzel, is a divorcee, living on the wild side as a bachelor pilot, drinking and drugging himself into an uncontrolled downward spiral of alcoholism. A solidly crafted script propels “Capt Whip” into a horror show flight disaster after an all-night, booze and drug laden love fest with his flight attendant sweetie pie, who displays audience shocking frontal nudity in the opening layover hotel bedroom scene.

While the movie audience was constantly shaking their heads in disbelief at the miraculous airmanship displayed by an inebriated Capt Whip, most pilots in the audience were entranced with focusing on the accuracy of detail in choreographing the inflight emergency for the film. Some pilots expressed concern that the protagonist (Denzel) was a roguish, amoral Black airline pilot. However, Capt Whip’s loss of professional discipline in ignoring crew rest rules regarding drinking, drugging and flying lacked plausibility in today’s commercial pilot world. No-Notice drug and alcohol testing at the airport and for flight physicals would prevent pilots with alcohol or drug issues from hiding under the radar for very long. Testing positive for alcohol or illegal drugs would result in immediate termination and loss of pilot licenses. No pilot who loves his or her career wants this to happen. The film script didn’t mention the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) which is currently another safeguard in commercial aviation to detect crewmembers not fit to fly.

The movie script of “Flight” would have been more plausible back in the seventies, before TSA and No-Notice drug and alcohol testing. That was a period when marijuana and cocaine use were the new fad, “designer drugs,” in society and many pilots filled by nature with the machismo of adventure enjoyed affluent lifestyles of partying and flying on the edge. This penchant for excess was fueled by a high stress vocation, grueling long duty days with frequent situations that tested a pilot’s skills and decision making to the limits. Any aviator’s worse nightmare was to report for work exhausted and hung-over and then be confronted with an inflight emergency. That is precisely what Denzel Washington faced as Capt Whip Williams: a catastrophic mechanical failure of a major flight control that led to a crash in which 96 of a 102 passengers and crew survived. The real drama of “Flight,” however, is portrayed in the struggle for Capt Whip to face the truth of his addictions.

Interwoven into the movie themes were sensitive peeks at issues of religious conviction, philosophies of life and human kindness. John Goodman and Don Cheadle were outstanding as Capt Whip’s Pusher-Man buddy and union lawyer, respectively. The private tormented lifestyle of Capt Whip through the accident investigation makes for gripping suspense which had audience members on the edge of the their seats frequently. The film has a wonderful surprise outcome that catches the audience completely off guard, as Capt Whip emerges with redemption and liberation. Denzel, as usual, was magnificent. Great Movie!

The reviewer is a retired airline Captain, Brian H. Settles, a former Air Force combat veteran and author of a personal memoire of flying titled, No Reason for Dying: A Reluctant Combat Pilot’s Confession of Hypocrisy

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