A Few Lessons From #Sully

Polishing flights in a USAF Piper Arrow.

Polishing flights in a USAF Piper Arrow.

Over the past forty years flying military and civilian aircraft there have been a few times when after landing, I felt like kissing the ground beneath my two feet. Seeing the movie “Sully” recently about the “Miracle on the Hudson” – the safe landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River on 1/15/2009 by Captain #Sullenberger rekindled memories of some of these scary moments. My first was in the Army in 1968. I’ll never forget it.

After hundreds of flying hours in all kinds of army aircraft, my first such incident was getting into a Bell OH6 two-seat helicopter piloted by a young and brash army officer. He had asked me, an aircraft repairman, to take the right seat for a flight across the San Francisco Bay. Dutiful, I got in. The rotors were whirring full speed – ready for lift-off.  Barely seated and with no apparent checklist or warning the chopper leaped off at a rapid rate of ascent. In an instant we were 1,000 feet over Alcatraz. I was yelling; “I don’t have my seatbelt on!” – and then it happened! While I still fumbled to attach and snap my belt, the helicopter made a 45 degree banking right turn. In a flash I was suddenly partly outside of this doorless craft looking straight down at the Frisco Bay. The force of gravity had yanked the top half of my body outside the cockpit. The only thing that kept me from dropping 1,000 feet was my tenuous grip on a seat belt strap I was now desperately clinging to. I screamed, but the pilot smiled and seemed to take pleasure in my precarious situation as if it were his joke of the day. He being a superior officer, I was limited on what I could say to him at that moment. He finally leveled the vibrating OH6 and I managed pull myself back into the cockpit and securely snap my belt. When we returned to #Presidio, I vowed never to fly with this maniac again. I felt like punching him in the gut, but he wasn’t worth a court marshal. If anyone would have listened, I would have turned him in so at least that he may not have killed someone in the future. And yes, I did feel like kissing the ground that day. To this very day, I continue to shun helicopter rides.

Reflecting, imagine you were on flight 1549 that day and you had a different person flying the airplane than #Sully. What do you think would have happened?
Lesson One: Be careful who you associate with. Your outcome may be profoundly different.

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Steve Wightman

Super Seawind, N71RJ, pilot.

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