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A Wing And A Prayer

PZ reports on a trial verdict just out. It stands in stark opposition to the efficient actions of the pilot and crew in the Hudson River emergency landing; today’s ruling finds pilot and several crew members guilty of actions which contributed to the deaths of 16 in a crash-landing in the Mediterranean in 2005.

The fuel gauge had just been replaced with an improper gauge that showed the plane as having more fuel than it actually did; the pilot then ordered insufficient fuel to make the return trip from Sicily. Both engines died within moments of one another; the plane could have been glided to a nearby airport, or procedures could have been initiated to have a safe water landing, but the pilot chose instead to pray. Yup. Loudly enough for the passengers to hear. It must have been quite comforting to know he was praying instead of piloting. See, normally, prayer is the responsibility of the passengers, whose other main job is to sit and do nothing… so they are clearly qualified.

Flying along on a wing and a prayer
Works better for songs than for planes;
Trusting in God, when the fuel isn’t there,
Is a poor way of using your brains!

Turns out that the phrase “a wing and a prayer” originates from a 1943 song and a 1944 movie. Not a true story, a work of fiction. A good one, too. But not a substitute for pilot training. [Correction!!! A knowledgeable reader, Howard, has corrected me–the song is based on a real incident. Read his comment below for more info.]

Flying along on a wing and a prayer
Works better in fiction than fact
When engines conk out and it gives you a scare
It’s time not to pray, but to act!

Anyway, I thought I’d revise the lyrics of the original song, to better suit the 2005 incident. Feel free to sing along.

One of our planes was flying
Over water, just south of Rome
The fuel gauge, sadly, was lying
There was not enough gas to get home
The engines were skipping and stalling
The plane started tossing about
And the passengers found it appalling
When they all heard the pilot shout out:

Comin in on a wing and a prayer
Listen up, god, I know that you’re there
Though we’ve run out of gas
I know god loves my ass
Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer.

What a show, what a flight, boys
We’re gonna hit some whitecaps here tonight
How we pray as we limp through the air
Look below, there’s just waves everywhere
With all our fuel gone
We can still carry on
Comin in on a wing and a prayer

Comin in on a wing and a prayer
Listen up, god, I know that you’re there
Though we’ve run out of gas
I know god loves my ass
Comin’ in on a wing and a [splash].


  1. says

    Minor quibble: The song was inspired by the true story of a heavily damaged B-17 bomber that was covered in Life Magazine*; however, the phrase “a wing and a prayer” was invented by lyricist Harold Adamson.Do you know the song well? For all the Jesus-n-Jingoism, it’s still a fine example of mid-century songwriting. There was a time when Christians made some fine music. This song was a hit for the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, who also recorded the surreal “Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’” about the Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the only Gospel song to praise Comrade Joe by name:Stalin wasn’t stallin’ When he to1d the beast of Berlin That they’d never rest contented Til they had driven him from the land So he called the Yanks and English And proceeded to extinguish The Fuehrer and his vermin This is how it all began . . .

  2. says

    Thanks for the correction!I knew the song, but not well enough that I didn’t have to look it up to be sure of the lyrics. The site I found was my source for the “fiction” claim, so I will gladly edit that!

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