Friday, January 16, 2009

Now that was cool...

There had never been a successful water landing of a commercial airliner...until yesterday. The more we find out about this amazing incident, the more one thing becomes boldly apparent...the pilots did something that borders on impossible. Chesley Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles represent the incredible skill that sits up there in the front of the plane. Sullenberger is himself a "check pilot". All pilots have a semi-annual "check" flight in which they are graded by someone who could be called a master pilot. Fail the flight and you are pulled off the line for more training.

The fortunate passengers had perhaps the best pilot possible for what happened to them. Not only is Sully a check pilot, he owns a company devoted to airline safety. A former F-4 Phantom fighter jock. And a very cool customer. The Hudson River appears wide but from where the plane was when all this came down (so to speak), it must have looked like a dirty silver ribbon. Sully made this "landing" as gentle as snow falling on a calm wintry day. Had either wing been tilted down a bit, it no doubt would have sheared off and the enormous load of fuel would have exploded. Didn't happen. The relatively calm manner in which the passengers exited the fuselage is a credit to the whole crew of five. Skiles, the co-pilot, even gave one of the passengers the shirt off his back.

Since I'm an aviation geek and a frustrated pilot wanna-be, I've always held these men and women in high esteem - right up there with brain surgeons and missionaries to Burkina Fasso. One of the highlights of my life was a tour given me of a privately owned Saudi 747. I had been invited by the owner's publicist to photograph the takeoff of the plane at Love Field, where it had been idle for 17 months having an $80 million refurbishing. Yeah, $80 million. There was an amazing amount of gold the bathroom sinks, along the walls, and even the seat-belt buckles. My tour guides were the two pilots, both retired 747 captains from United Airlines. What blew me away was how deferential and obsequious their treatment toward me was. They acted like I were the cool person, not them. When the tour was over (20 minutes worth), I thanked them profusely.

Yeah, they are the really cool ones. Thank you Sully and Jeff for reinforcing what I already believed - pilots are as cool as the other side of the pillow.

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