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Are Pilots Like Sullenberger A Dying Breed?

by John M. White |  | 4 comments

Are pilots like Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger really a dying breed?  The Airbus 320 is a modern aircraft which you fly with a side stick instead of the traditional wheel we have all come to think of in aircraft.  The instrumentation of the aircraft is projected on large LCD screens rather than through mechanical devices like artificial horizons and altimeters and all of that. We live in the age of the "glass cockpit", even in smaller business and general aviation aircraft.  There is a lot to be said about these wonderful developments, but sometimes I wonder.  As I watched "60 Minutes" tonight I was struck when Capt. Sullenberger talked about starting the APU (auxiliary power unit) when both aircraft engines failed. The reason this is important is that when the engines fail, the generators fail, and you are down to battery power which may or may not be sufficient for the remaining flight time.  The APU insures that there will be enough electrical power, although with his experience and given the weather he could have completed the landing without them. As you listen to the radio transmissions you understand that Capt. Sullenberger knew where he was.  We pilots call this "situational awareness".  He quickly ran down the list of options and settled on the Hudson River.  All of this took place in 5 minutes from takeoff to splashdown. Sometimes I wonder if the crop of pilots learning today don't become too dependent upon the gizmos in the cockpit rather than the basics of flying.  I remember learing to fly on instruments when we didn't have anything other than a VOR or ADF indicator and some charts to know where we were.  It was essential that we always knew where we were, even as we navigated through the clouds. An acquaintence of mine writes his own blog, Plastic Pilot, and asked me to provide him with a little information regarding my experiences in aviation.  If you have a moment you might want to take a read. Perhaps it will tell you a little about flying in the late 50s and 60s. Writer Robert Kolker wrote an interesting piece in the New York Magazine on February 3rd, but I don't think he gets it quire right. He maintains airline pilots today are not "mavericks" any more, but rather more like asset managers who fly highly automated aircraft and act more like observers than pilots.  But most of the airline pilots I know love to fly, whether it is a J3 Cub or an Airbus 320, and I don't think most of them take their job quite as casually as Kolker thinks. What do you think?  Drop me a note an let me know. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7

As you know, birds do not have sexual organs because they would interfere with flight. [In fact, this was the big breakthrough for the Wright Brothers. They were watching birds one day, trying to figure out how to get their crude machine to fly, when suddenly it dawned on Wilbur. "Orville," he said, "all we have to do is remove the sexual organs!" You should have seen their original design.] As a result, birds are very, very difficult to arouse sexually. You almost never see an aroused bird. So when they want to reproduce, birds fly up and stand on telephone lines, where they monitor telephone conversations with their feet. When they find a conversation in which people are talking dirty, they grip the line very tightly until they are both highly aroused, at which point the female gets pregnant.

— Dave Barry, 'Sex and the Single Amoebae.'

Comments (4)

  • JetAviator7 on June 24, 2019


    This seems like a thorn under your saddle that just won’t go away.

    I have no idea if they will ever reopen the investigation or not, and less of an idea of what the result of that investigation would be.

    My only comment is what constructive or positive contribution do you believe you can make to air safety without concern for what does or does not happen to Sullenberger? It is so easy to second guess someone else – my only point being if you weren’t there you don’t really know.

    Perhaps you are a better pilot, more skilled and could have not only saved the pax and crew but the aircraft as well. But you weren’t there, you weren’t flying the airplane, you didn’t make the choices and you didn’t save pax, crew or airplane.

    My advice is to give it a rest and if you have something positive to contribute to improve airline safety please let us know.



  • Dave Brough on June 24, 2019

    “With his experience and given the weather (Sullenberger) could have completed the landing without them (the engines and APU)”. Good point, and one overlooked by most, although softly voiced in the NTSB report, is the fact that, had he not choked, Sully could have completed the landing…at LGA. In other words, he needless destroyed an $80 million aircraft and endangered his life and 154 others.
    As for the question at hand, “Are pilots like Sullenberger a dying breed?”, another good point. Pilots who, whether through arrogance, inattention or plain stupidity, disobey the most basic rules and attributes of aviation, like in Sully’s case “See and Avoid” are, indeed, a dying breed. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.
    Dave Brough

  • JetAviator7 on June 24, 2019


    I appreciate your comments and note that you are certainly entitled to your opinion; however, I would submit that unless you were there flying the aircraft it is unfair to judge another man’s actions which resulted in no injuries or death. In other words who really cares about the aircraft – it is only people that count.

    That being said it is always easy to second guess another pilots actions, and for sure some of my flying choices could be subject to criticism as well, but throughout my career no one was ever injured in any way, and so I say I had a successful if uneventful flying career.


  • Dave Brough on June 24, 2019

    John. Your message is that it’s unfair to judge Sully because I wasn’t the one doing the flying. Au contraire. In other words, only Sully can judge (or sully) Sully. So let me put myself in Sully’s shoes…
    “First of all, I was yakking on my cell while taxiing at LGA. That’s a violation of the SCR. Sorry. Second, during CO, instead of using my MF-1 eyeballs to S&A (see and avoid), I was gawking “the beautiful view of the river” (my exact words. Check the transcript). Another violation. As if that weren’t enough, I said it out loud, this distracting FO Skiles who, as you know, was actually doing the flying.
    And remember, this was Skilesy’s first day in a Bus, so I had an even more important duty of care to ensure that he was not distracted. Sorry, again. Proof that neither of us were watching where we were going was that I only saw the birds one second before impact. At 210 knots, that’s about a football field a second. A flapping V-shaped target 2m wide and 100m long – especially in CAVU and to the northwest so excuse of sun in my eyes – could have been easily seen 3 miles away, this giving us a full 45 seconds to nudge the plane out of harm’s way. We didn’t and we didn’t.
    Next, it took me a full 10 seconds to realize what was going on. From then-on, I did everything – yes, everything, wrong. My first reaction was starting the APU – which, as you know, starts automatically. I could have stalled it. Second, I took control from Skiles. As you know, the flying is the easy part and left to the less-experienced jock. Next, I tasked Skiles with digging out the bookofwords and finding engines-out, forgetting that this procedure was for FL30 and above. When it came to telling the world, I forgot to switch to 121.5. Next I forgot to Mayday with Who-What-Where-How-many (souls), and my intentions. I stepped on ATC. I forgot that in a Mayday, I don’t take instructions from ATC, I tell them what I’m doing, it being their job to clear track. I forgot to 7700, I forgot my call sign (Cactus 1549, not 1539). I told ATC I was heading back to LGA, but kept my original heading. Instead of converting my positive airspeed into time aloft, I dropped the nose in an attempt to obtain the 300kt needed for a re-light. I didn’t follow the green dot. Not only did I turn downwind, I turned toward heavily populated Manhatten. Not only that, I turned straight into the path of the 600-foot tall George Washington Bridge. I forgot to drop flaps (hence impacting so hard I tore the whole arse-end open). Even after Skiles reminded me about the flaps, I dusted him off. I forgot to hit the ditch switch – and again, when Skiles reminded me, I dusted him off on that, too.
    After we were down and pandemonium reined, did I use my cell to call 911 and avise who I was and what was going on? No, but I did call my wife.
    Bottom line: I’m a perfect example of the kind of screw up that is, like you say, a dying breed. Not only am I lucky to be alive, I’m lucky that there are people like you call me a hero and diverting attention away from my stupid actions that, only through some of the most incredible luck in the history of aviation, didn’t kill at least half of those on board that aircraft. I’m even luckier that there aren’t more Dave Brough’s around demanding that this investigation be re-opened, because if and when it is, they’re going to through the book at me".

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