Capt. Sully on “The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg”
August 12, 2020
I Am a Veteran
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He’s perhaps best known for his heroic display of skill and control when he safely landed a passenger plane on the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009, saving all 155 passengers and crew aboard. A speaker, author and safety advocate, Capt. “Sully” Sullenberger shares a bit of his life and experience with AAA Members.

What inspired you to become an airline pilot?

I knew I wanted to fly at age 5. My family lived near an Air Force base and I loved seeing the jets fly over our house. I couldn’t wait until I learned to fly at 16. My first flying lesson was a realization of a years-long dream. Freeing myself from the ground, seeing everything on the earth become small and fall away was tantalizing. Feeling the controls in my hand and learning to master the machine was joyous. After earning my private pilot license and commercial pilot license in high school, I became a flight instructor while a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and after graduation, became a U.S.A.F. fighter pilot. After I completed my Air Force service, I became an airline pilot to fly big passenger jets.

What were your first thoughts on that day in 2009 when you realized the flock of geese had disabled both engines?

I knew immediately that this was going to be the biggest challenge of my life, one of the worst days of my life. As is typical in such situations, my first thought was one of disbelief, “This can’t be happening.” But from the very outset, even though we had never specifically envisioned or trained for this situation, I was confident that my crew and I could find a way to solve all the many serious problems we faced until we had either solved them all or solved as many as we could, enough to survive.

What helped me was having paid close attention to precisely managing the total energy, the speed and altitude, of large jets for thousands of hours of flight, and being able to very quickly determine how far we could glide at that low altitude and therefore which options were possible and which were not.

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