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Sully: The Cadet's Role Model

Posted on September 12, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Curt LaFond

"Sully,” the new film about Captain Sully Sullenberger’s emergency water landing on the Hudson River, is required viewing for every aspiring young aviator.

You probably already know the story. Sully is flying an Airbus A320 with 155 souls on board when a birdstrike causes both engines to fail over New York City. Sully and his first officer execute an emergency water landing with zero fatalities. The film is psychological drama, not a suspense.


What ought to interest cadets is that the filmmakers focus on aviation as a profession. “Sully” shows that flying is a sobering responsibility. Each member of the crew is quietly competent. Professionalism rules, not the “hot shot pilot” bravado you see in “Top Gun.”


“Never stop flying the aircraft,” the young Sully’s instructor admonishes during a flashback. If you’re pilot in command, remain in command of the aircraft. Remember that the unexpected comes without warning. (By the way, in that flashback with the teenaged Sully, watch for the CAP emblem to be visible for a split second on a hangar in the background.)


And so, risk management is the film’s uncredited co-star. Cadets learn basic risk management principles through the Cadet Wingman Course and safety briefings before going into the field. In the film, Captain Sully shows you how those basic ideas ought to play-out in real life.


Observe your surroundings. “Uh-oh, birds!” What is going on? Camera cuts to the instrument panel and we see the tachometers drop to zero. Think before you act. What are my options?  Can we make it back to the airport? No. Who can help me? “Mayday, Mayday” gets the air traffic controller’s attention.  Some really brief radio traffic ensues. Camera cuts to the first officer. It’s him – not the captain – who grabs the checklist and lowers the flaps. More radio traffic, but Sully stops responding. Why? He’s too busy with priority one, flying the aircraft. 


Director Clint Eastwood, veteran of those great cowboy movies, shows Sully and crew are cool under pressure because they’re well-trained, well-rested professionals ready to do their job, wholly committed to everyone’s safety.


Go see Sully and be ready to learn that what makes a professional pilot a professional isn’t the paycheck, but a fully aware, analytical mind that never lets go of the stick.


Categories: Aerospace

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