Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger has written (with the help of Jeffrey Zaslow) a very readable memoir that details not only the specifics of his memorable Hudson River landing of flight 1549, but a very convincing explanation of how he was able to get it done.
The book’s subtitle is “My Search for What Really Matters,” and while what Sullenberger reports may be aeronautical, it ain’t rocket science. It was a combination of his own talent as a pilot and thousands of hours piloting aircraft, years and years of studying airplane systems to understand what caused problems in the past, studying all the features of every plane he flew to understand what manuals could teach and what automated systems could and could not do, and an ability to rely on his knowledge and training to remain calm and focused in this life-threatening emergency. In other words he did all the prep, all the grunt work one needs to do in order to best perform his job. He did not cut corners in his routines. He dotted his “i”s and crossed his “t”s.
His headline event might have been a disastrous one in the hands of a less experienced pilot. Yet, hiring less experienced pilots is one of the many ways that modern airlines are trying to save money. Sullenberger points out many of the changes that have taken place in the industry and seeing those changes through his eyes is one of the best reasons to read this book.
Sully is a gracious man and makes a considerable effort to let be known how much of a team effort was involved in his watery landing. He repeatedly mentions the names of the members of his flight crew, particularly his co-pilot. And he reports on the attention he received after the event with a heavy dose of humility and self-deprecation. He does not, for example, regard himself as a hero, seeing heroes as people who choose to perform dangerous acts to save others, while the danger he encountered was thrust upon him.
His life story is somewhat interesting in that it shows the steps along his career that got him to where he is today, the opportunities he was afforded, the successes he had, his passion for flying since childhood, his ongoing effort to doing the best job possible, what they call at job interviews a “commitment to excellence.” You will learn a bit about life in the Air Force Academy as well.
What really matters, what Sully represents is the benefit to us all of the millions of people who go about their unheralded jobs every day doing the right thing, taking care of the details they need to take care of, making sure their tasks, their jobs are done right. In a world notable for sloppiness, laziness, corner-cutting and corruption, whether in the highest levels of government, the centers of finance, in corporate boardrooms, or workshop floors, it is uplifting to see someone who has dedicated himself to the highest principles of honesty, integrity and safety be recognized for his values and his efforts. Sully provides an inspiring role model for all who strive to do the right thing all the time.