Don’t get me wrong, I would crawl uphill, on my hands and knees, on broken glass, in order to shake the man’s hand. Captain Sullenberger is, after all, the heroic pilot of flight 1549 whose amazing landing in the Hudson River, after a bird strike, managed to save the lives of all 150 passengers on board. But, he’s not cool–at least not according to the MTV/Facebook/Hollywood crowd. I mean, Captain Sullenberger is 58 years old, he has grey hair, he’s not exceptionally good looking or charismatic, he hasn’t written two autobiographies (one when he was 33), and he doesn’t give great speeches where he claims to possess the magical powers of being able to “heal the nation” and “slow the rise of the oceans”. Moreover, will.i.am probably wouldn’t want to make a video about him, Pepsi probably wouldn’t want to base a logo on him, Scarlett Johansson probably has no interest in emailing him, and Ludacris probably wouldn’t want to write a song about him (I use the word “song” generously–you can listen to it in the link).
And yet, Captain Sullenberger was able to make a split-second decision, under enormous pressure, and save 150 lives in the process, because he has over 40 years of experience flying airplanes. If you look at Chesley Sullenberger’s Wikipedia page, you will find that at age 12 his IQ was deemed high enough to join MENSA, and that at age 14 he started flying planes. Furthermore, he was an Air Force fighter pilot from 1973-1980 (where he attained the rank of captain), he became a commercial airline pilot for US Air in 1980, he has over 19,000 hours of flight experience, and he has co-authored a paper with NASA scientists on error-inducing contexts in aviation (imagine that–he has actually published something that‘s not about himself). In other words, it is no accident that Chesley Sullenberger was so prepared to handle the catastrophe of flight 1549–his entire life had been leading up to that moment. Yes, if anyone was the right person for that job, it was Captain Sullenberger.
Below is the video of flight 1549 landing in the Hudson river, that also has the blackbox audio of the pilots conversing with the air traffic controllers. What strikes me the most about the video is the calm in Captain Sullenberger’s voice when he matter of factly states, “We’re gonna be in the Hudson”–in the same tone that I would tell my husband, “I’m going to the grocery store”.
On a side note, you should all know that it’s hard for even a very experienced pilot to land a plane in water without it being a disaster. Below is a video of two experienced, heroic Ethiopian pilots trying to land a hijacked airliner in the Indian Ocean. They did everything right, but the plane hit a coral reef when it hit the water and it ripped apart–luckily, 50 people survived.
Now, this whole “Miracle on the Hudson” thing has got me thinking. We could have had a fighter pilot, with almost 30 years of experience, steering our country out of this financial crisis. Instead, we have an inexperienced neophyte who is crash landing us into an ocean of debt, where we are all going to drown in pork.
Seriously, does anyone in their right mind think that John McCain would have already screwed up so royally, in such a short period of time, by nominating four tax cheats to major cabinet posts (one to head the IRS), and by already having two Secretaries of Commerce have to step down? Furthermore, does anyone honestly think that John McCain would have screwed up the stimulus package this badly with so much pork, and would have dropped the charges against the man suspected of bombing The USS Cole–and then have had the audacity to invite the family members of the murdered sailors over to the White House after the fact (see video below)? Oh, and just so you all know, I would also crawl uphill, on my hands and knees, on broken glass, to shake John McCain‘s hand and thank him for all of the sacrifices that he has made for our great country, but I digress.
But hey, our pilot is “cool”, he is “youthful”, he has a nice smile, he gives great speeches (if you aren’t sick of all of the platitudes yet), and Hollywood loves him. That’s what’s important–right? Experience is for old fogies with grey hair who smell like mothballs.
[By the way, George Will has an excellent column in which he explains that, “There are no rules in presidential elections”, and that “rhetoric carries the day”. Do any of you honestly think that anyone would ever fly again if we used those same standards to judge airline pilots by–i.e., that one’s speeches and rhetoric were more important than one’s experience and accomplishments? Just a thought.]
So, in conclusion, the next time that I fly on an airplane, if there is an older, experienced, heroic pilot flying the plane, then I am going to get off and demand that I be put on another plane with a younger, more handsome, more charismatic, less experienced pilot who is friends with Ludacris, Jay-Z, and Scarlett Johansson. I mean, so what if we crash into the ocean and I lose a leg due to the trauma–I have a spare. Besides, it would be worth the risk of crashing just to hear the dashing, young pilot say “Yes we can” in his sonorous baritone as we take off. Hey, what can I say? I’ve really got my priorities in order, don’t I? Yeah, you see, I’m cool like that.