|Young Eagles co-chairmen Jeff Skiles and Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger drew a standing-room only crowd to the EAA Welcome Center on Friday. (photo by Jason Toney)
By Ric Reynolds
It was the splash heard 'round the world.
Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles gained fame for their superb airmanship in safely guiding US Airways Flight 1549 to a successful ditching on January 15, 2009, a landing known as the "Miracle on the Hudson."
Friday morning at the EAA Welcome Center, however, they appeared as EAA members addressing a standing-room-only audience.
The famous former captain and his former first officer serve as honorary co-chairmen of EAA's wildly successful Young Eagles program, which over the past 20 years introduced more than 1.7 million 8- to 17-year-olds to flight. More than 7 percent of current pilots are former Young Eagles.
"We're the honorary co-chairmen, but it's the volunteers who have done the hard work and deserve the credit for the success of the Young Eagles program," Sully said.
Skiles, since January EAA's vice president of chapters and youth education, said new developments in the Young Eagles program will provide a pathway to aviation for young pilots, whether they are looking to aviation as a career or for recreation.
"After the Young Eagles flight, Sporty's provides free ground school, plus we pay for the first flight lesson - we're working to take them to that next step to flight," Skiles said.
Skiles addressed the new Eagle Flights program launched here Tuesday as a program inviting adults to engage in the aviation community.
"That is the key to the Eagle Flights program," he explained. "We're not necessarily looking to develop another pilot; we're looking to invite people into our community, help them with whatever they want to do, be that flying, building, whatever it is."
Several questions concerned the harrowing situation in 2009 when 100 seconds after departing New York's LaGuardia Airport a flock of Canada geese crossed paths with the airplane and killed both engines of the US Airways Airbus 320.
Two hundred eight seconds later they were floating on the Hudson - and all 155 souls aboard survived.
After efforts to relight the engines failed, the pilots knew their only option was ditching in the Hudson River.
"I knew from experience there were only three options, and after looking out the window, the stress did not leave me the ability to do the math," Sully explained.
"The only option was the Hudson."
Since simulator training cannot accurately replicate that situation, Sully said the key to their success stemmed from the crew's deeply internalized resource management skills, leadership and team building, and cooperative skills in the cockpit.
"In this intense, high-workload situation, we never had a chance to have a conversation about what was happening or what we were going to do about it," he said.
"So I had to rely upon Jeff to understand this unfolding situation as it developed, listen to my conversation, and infer my intent from that. It was wordless for much of the flight.
"We took an imperfect system with imperfect tools and made it work out."
In a lighter moment, Skiles joked the hotels in Manhattan were nicer than the ones near the airports.
When asked if the FAA gave him a seaplane rating after the Miracle landing, Sully replied in jest, "No, the FAA just said that it would if I did it two more times."