Monday, January 19, 2009

Miracle on the Hudson

This guy is my new hero! Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his crew pulled off an amazing emergency landing in the Hudson River. For the "lay person" it was an amazing feat, but for those of us in the aviation industry it is even more impressive. As an Air Traffic Controller and a pilot the danger of a bird strike is something that I am very familiar with. Without going completely "nerd" on you there are several different times when this entire thing could have gone bad, but due to the quick thinking and experience of the crew it did not. First on climb out, the aircraft is in a nose high attitude and at or near full power in order to get to cruise altitude as fast at possible (of course this is all dependent on traffic and departure procedure out of La Guardia) losing one engine during this phase of flight would be bad enough, but losing both is potentially catastrophic. Published reports state that the bird strike occured at 3000 ft, which sounds high up but it really isn't. 3000 ft would give you a very limited glide radius in a Cessna 172, much less an Airbus 320 full of passengers and fuel. To quote one of my professors from college those things glide "like a streamlined brick". The fact that the crew was able to nose the aircraft over and trade some altitude for airspeed and avoid stalling the wings is a testament to many, many hours of training and flight time. Without any power and at a very low altitude the crew basically had one chance to land the plane safely, had they had any indecision at all or made the wrong choice by going back to La Guardia or trying for Teterboro the outcome would have certainly been much worse. Landing an aircraft on water is not an easy feat in and of itself, doing it with no power and limited flight controls makes it almost impossible. The margin for error is practically nil, pitch the nose up too soon and you risk a belly flop and the aircraft breaking apart in the water, pitch the nose up too late and you risk the nose of the aircraft going in first and the rest of the plane following it to the bottom of the river. What the crew did was bleed off every knot of airspeed right over the water and then pitched the nose up at the perfect time so the aircraft settled in and floated on top of the water.

Congratulations Capt. Sully and crew, you are truely heroes in every sense of the word.

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