Friday, January 16, 2009

U. S. Airways Flight 1549

It was no miracle. It was the confluence of excellence.

It was excellent training, skill and personality in the pilot and flight crew of U. S. Airways Flight 1549. It was the durability and superb flight capability of the Airbus A320. It was the outstanding reactions and seamanship of the boat crews of half a dozen companies and agencies on the Hudson River. It was the courage and calmness of the passengers on the flight.

The only grandstanding was by some politicians who were not even involved. They rushed to the scene to get their faces on television. That’s what politicians do. Some of the passengers talked to the media, but they didn’t talk about what they did, they talked in a somewhat awed tone about what the pilot did. The pilot remained in seclusion; he will talk to investigators before he has anything to say to the public.

Airline pilots have always had my highest respect, and that certainly was not diminished today. He made every decision exactly right, in a matter of seconds, executed those decisions flawlessly, and saved the lives that had been entrusted to him.

Not much has been said about the airplane itself. I don’t recall how often, in my Navy days, that we wanted to go to The Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut and thank them for building rugged submarines. A lot of people should be thanking Airbus for making good airplanes; an airplane that remained flyable without power, that survived the impact of the ditching, and that remained afloat long enough to get everyone off.

Granted, surviving the ditching had a lot to do with how skillfully and gently the pilot put it down; but still, at those speeds, water is about as soft as a brick wall and the impact is not trivial. That is a rugged and well built bird.

There was much concern when Airbus introduced its “fly by wire” that the plane would become unflyable when power was lost. Well, so much for that theory.

I know this. I will fly on U. S. Airways any time, any place, and I will never hesitate to board an Airbus A320.

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Another story of pilot skill with a less happy ending occurred when I was living in Atlanta. A DC-9 flew into a thunderstorm and reported to controllers that hail had knocked out both of his engines at 33,000 feet. He flew the plane, without power, down to a level at which he found a highway that he thought he could land on. He got his flaps and landing gear down and lined up on the highway and was about to touch down when one wingtip hit a tree. About a third of the passengers survived, but without the incredible skill of this pilot, none of them would have.

That event was only a few miles from my house, and I’ll never forget being absolutely blown away by that pilot’s amazing calmness and skill under the most awful conditions.

Just think how safe our roads would be if we drove our cars the same way pilots fly planes.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:07 AM

    Just think how our roads would be if getting a drivers license was as hard as getting a pilots license. Or if it was as easy to loose.