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.
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.