Mobile Banner

On a wing and a prayer

with little chance of success


on a wing and a prayer = auf gut Glück, auf’s Geratewohl, mit viel Rückenwind und Gottvertrauen, auf wackeligen Beinen —— arrive on a wing and a prayer = auf gut Glück ankommen



“ON A WING AND A PRAYER - NATO scrambles to reassure and protect its eastern allies from Russia”

‘Charlemagne’ - Column Headline in The Economist

“California Governor Jerry Brown’s WING-AND-A-PRAYER budget in January predicted the Facebook IPO would help to close the Golden State’s $9 billion deficit with a $2.5 billion tax windfall over five years.”

The Wall Street Journal - Opinion Section

Did you

on a wing and a prayer

- without much chance of success

- if you do something on a wing and a prayer, you do it hoping that you will succeed, although you are not prepared enough for it

Merriam-Webster / The Cambridge Dictionary


Although the exact source of the expression “On a wing and a prayer” cannot be pinpointed, it’s clear that it originated during World War II in reference to a damaged fighter plane trying to return to base. This stems from the idea that the plane is so badly damaged, the only thing left to do is pray for a safe landing.

One of the earliest references is in the 1942 John Wayne film “Flying Tigers”. Wayne’s character Captain Jim Gordon asks a hotel clerk in Rangoon, “Any word on that flight yet?" The clerk answers, "Yes sir, it was attacked and fired on by a Japanese aircraft. She’s coming in on one wing and a prayer."

The expression was then later adopted in an American patriotic song titled “Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer”:

Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer
Look below, there’s our field over there
Though there’s one motor gone
We can still carry on
Comin’ in on a wing and a prayer.


"Miraculous" was the adjective used in the days following US Flight 1549’s successful landing in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. What happened to Captain Chesley Sullenberger and his crew was a stroke of incredible bad luck, balanced by a few strokes of equally incredible good fortune and a series of wise judgments made by the captain and his crew.

After a bird strike by a flock of Canadian geese shut down the Airbus A320 engines shortly after takeoff, the Captain and his crew safely guided the aircraft to a water landing on the Hudson River in New York City. The “Miracle on the Hudson”, as it became known, was one of the most heroic accomplishments of any aviator, marked by quick-witted piloting and the survival of everyone on board the plane.

The 2016 dramatic feature film “Sully” was adapted from Sullenberger’s memoir “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters." Directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Tom Hanks as Sullenberger, it recreates the events around the Hudson River landing.

SMUGGLE OWAD into an English conversation, say something like:

“Truth be told, I passed my A-level exams ON A WING AND A PRAYER.”

HERZLICHEN DANK to all readers helping me keep OWAD alive with single or monthly donations at:


Paul Smith, IBAN: DE75 7316 0000 0002 5477 40

More Word Quizzes: