As we get bombarded each day with the stories of greed, myopia, and incompetence that crippled our economy and financial system, it is easy to get depressed about the state of professionalism in this country.
And then in one short moment yesterday, faced with a “Black Swan” event that the odds suggested were too low to be worth worrying about, the crew and rescuers of US Airways Flight 1549 did their jobs better than anyone could ever have hoped or imagined.
To all who helped make Flight 1549 a miracle, we salute you. Your combination of training, clear-headedness, professionalism, and creativity reminds us that, with the right people in charge, even the bleakest of circumstances can turn out OK.
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Airliners are not meant to glide, although occasionally they have to. The pilot of this one, Capt. Chesley B. Sullenberger III, is certified as a glider pilot, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
Captain Sullenberger, known as Sully, flew the F-4 for the United States Air Force for seven years in the 1970s after graduating from the United States Air Force Academy. He joined USAir, as it was called at the time, in 1980 and became a “check airman,” training and evaluating new pilots or those changing to new aircraft or moving up to captain. He also was an accident investigator for the union, the Air Line Pilots Association.
Captain Sullenberger’s wife, Lorrie Sullenberger, a fitness expert in Danville, Calif., said she learned about the crash on Thursday afternoon when her husband called her. “I haven’t stopped shaking yet,” she said in a brief phone interview.
US Airways pilots can drill for water landings in a simulator, but no one knows how realistic that is. “You’re landing on a big blue screen,” said one US Airways A320 pilot, referring to the flat-panel computer screens in the simulator…
Ditching can be tricky. The first step is to extend the slats and the flaps, the movable surfaces on the front and back edges of the wings that allow the plane to fly more slowly and to descend to just over the water’s surface.
Another step is to hit the “ditching button,” which seals the openings in the plane. One is the intake, where the engines grab air to pressurize and force it into the cabin, essential to high-altitude flight. Another is the valve at the back that lets air out.
When the plane is flying low enough, it will generate its own cushion of air, a phenomenon called “ground effect,” that lets it fly even more slowly.
“The whole point is to get the aeroplane slow, to minimize the damage and the forces on the aeroplane,” said John Cox, a safety consultant who flew the A320 for US Airways and USAir for six years. Mr. Cox said that he knew Captain Sullenberger and that he was “a seriously good aviator.”
While the plane slows, the crew has to be careful not to let it stall, which happens when the wind is flowing over the wings too slowly to generate enough lift. Mr. Cox said the plane would probably have touched down at 100 to 120 knots, roughly 115 to 140 miles per hour.
Ditching is different from landing a glider. Another safety expert, Arnie Reiner, who was a crash investigator for Pan American World Airways and later a pilot for the Delta Shuttle flights out of La Guardia, said the object was to keep the wings level and the nose up slightly, so the fuselage could plane on the water’s surface. Hit in a nose-down attitude, he said, and the plane could dig into the water, potentially damaging the fuselage heavily.
This one settled in with the nose high.
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