Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III

Speaker, Author, Safety Advocate

Captain “Sully” Sullenberger has been dedicated to the pursuit of safety his entire adult life. While he is best known for serving as Captain during what has been called the “Miracle on the Hudson,” Sullenberger is a safety expert, speaker, and author. He still flies privately.


Born and raised in Denison, Texas, Sullenberger pursued his childhood love of aviation by learning to fly at age 16, while still in high school, and later at the United States Air Force Academy. At his graduation from the Academy in 1973, he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship Award. In addition to his bachelor’s degree in psychology, he also has two master's degrees, one in industrial psychology from Purdue University and one in public administration from the University of Northern Colorado. He also has an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Purdue University.

Sullenberger served as a fighter pilot for the United States Air Force. He advanced to become a flight leader and a training officer, attaining the rank of captain. During his active duty, he was stationed in North America and Europe. After serving in the Air Force, in February 1980 Sullenberger became an airline pilot with Pacific Southwest Airlines, later acquired by US Airways, until his retirement from commercial flying in March 2010.

Prior to gaining worldwide attention, Sullenberger was an active and ardent safety advocate throughout his four-decade-long career. He was selected to perform accident investigation duties for the United States Air Force, and served as an Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) representative during a National Transportation Safety Board accident investigation. Additionally, Sullenberger served as a Local Air Safety Chairman for ALPA, and was a member of one of their national technical committees, where he contributed to the creation of a Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular. He was also instrumental in developing and implementing the Crew Resource Management course used by US Airways, and he taught the course to hundreds of other airline crewmembers.

After logging more than 20,000 hours of flight time Sullenberger became internationally renowned on January 15, 2009 when he and his crew safely guided US Airways Flight 1549 to an emergency water landing in New York City’s frigid Hudson River. The Airbus A320’s two engines had lost thrust following a bird strike. Sullenberger and his crew received international acclaim for their actions that day, including the passage of a Congressional resolution recognizing their bravery. Sullenberger was ranked second in TIME's "Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009” and was awarded the French Legion of Honour.

Sullenberger is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters and also wrote Making a Difference: Stories of Vision and Courage from America's Leaders. Clint Eastwood directed the major motion picture about Sullenberger’s life, titled SULLY, based on Highest Duty. Tom Hanks starred in the lead role; Aaron Eckhart and Laura Linney co-starred. The film was released to critical acclaim in September 2016 and garnered four Broadcast Film Critics nominations and one Academy Award nomination. Highest Duty was republished that year as SULLY: My Search for What Really Matters.

Sullenberger is an international lecturer and keynote speaker at educational institutions, corporations and non-profit organizations about the importance of aviation and patient safety, high performance systems improvement, leadership, crisis management, life-long preparation, and living a life of integrity. He presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2011, as well as the Swiss Economic Forum that same year. From 2009 to 2013, he served as co-chairman of EAA Young Eagles—a program that inspires and educates youth about aviation.

Most recently, Sullenberger has lent his voice to fulfilling what he feels is his latest mission: defending our democracy.

Analyzing Needs, Providing Solutions

Widely recognized as a safety advocate and champion of high professional standards through leadership-by-example, Sullenberger’s approach produces enhanced overall corporate improvement. He possesses a deep understanding of business and operational drivers with respect to safety issues, encouraging commitment to safety and transforming organizational culture. Sullenberger is an influential communicator and skillful presenter with more than 200 keynote addresses on topics including aviation and patient safety, crisis management, leadership, and a proven history of technical and academic contributions in those fields.
  • Work done with ALPA led to the development of a Federal Aviation Administration Advisory Circular. Worked with National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists to coauthor a paper on error-inducing contexts in aviation.

  • Helped develop and implement the Crew Resource Management (CRM) course used at US Airways, and taught the course to hundreds of airline colleagues, creating an effective safety culture.

  • Former member of Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) – served as ALPA Local Air Safety Chairman, member of ALPA Noise Abatement Committee and as an ALPA representative, contributed to industry-wide adoption of Aircraft Noise Abatement Departure Procedures as well as improved safety and standardization

  • Former Co-Chairman of EAA Young Eagles, an international program that inspires and educates youth about aviation

  • Presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 2011 and at the Swiss Economic Forum, 2011

  • Featured speaker for two panels – one on aviation and one covering patient safety in medicine at the High Reliability Organizations (HRO) 2007 International Conference in Deauville, France, 2007

  • Featured speaker at the GLOBE 2012 Conference on Business and the Environment in Vancouver, Canada

  • Cushing Orator, American Association of Neurological Surgeons Annual Scientific Meeting, New Orleans, LA, 2013
  • M.A., Public Administration – University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado, 1979

  • M.S., Industrial Psychology – Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, 1973

  • B.S., Psychology – United States Air Force Academy, Colorado, 1973
  • French Legion of Honour, 2009
  • Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award, Harvard Foundation, 2009
  • Lloyd’s Gold Medal for Saving Life, Lloyd’s of London, 2009
  • Medal of Valor, Simon Wiesenthal Center, 2009
  • Founders’ Medal, Air League, 2009
  • Distinguished Crew Safety Award, Air Line Pilots Association, 2009
  • Master’s Medal, Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, 2009
  • TIME 100 Most Influential People, 2009
  • Jabara Award for Airmanship, U.S. Air Force Academy, 2009
  • Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Current Achievement, 2010
  • Grand Marshal, Tournament of Roses, 2010
  • Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Purdue University, 2011
  • Inspiration Award, Angel Flight West, 2017
  • Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Wings of Valor Award, American Veterans Center, 2017
  • Achievement in Aviation, San Francisco Aeronautical Society, 2018
  • Tony Jannus Award, Tony Jannus Distinguished Aviation Society, 2018

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