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Heroes in Flight: Chesley Sullenberger

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger is a former US Airlines pilot, who successfully landed his passenger plane on the Hudson River after it struck a flock of Canada geese. His successful landing saved all 155 passengers aboard his aircraft, and propelled him into hero status among pilots.

Commercial Pilot Hero

Chesley had been piloting commercial planes for nearly 30 years before the day that made him a hero. He was flying out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport when the plane struck a flock of geese that damaged the plane’s engines. He made the quick decision to turn the plane around and land in the Hudson River. The next year he retired, wrote his memoirs and started a new career as an international speaker on airline safety.

Early Life

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger was born in Dension, Texas in 1951. In 1969 he enrolled in the U.S. Air Force Academy, and graduated as an officer in 1973. Sullenberger served as a fighter pilot for the U.S. Air Force from 1973 to 1980, flying Vietnam-era F-4 Phantom II Jets. As a top pilot, Sullenberger was the mission commander for Red Flag exercises, in which pilots receive advanced aerial combat training.

Commercial Pilot Career

In 1980, Sullenberger joined Pacific Southwest Airlines as a commercial pilot. Pacific Southwest was later acquired in 1988 by a company that would become US Airways. Over his years as a professional pilot, Sullenberger was an instructor, an Air Line Pilots Association safety chairman, and accident investigator. He was also a participant in several U.S. Air Force and National Transportation Safety Board accident investigations.

The Landing on the Hudson

Although Sullenberger had a storied and admirable career as a pilot it wasn’t until his famous landing on the Hudson that he received the spotlight that thrust him into a celebrity. His years of airline safety instruction and study paid off on January 15, 2009 during a routine flight heading out of LaGuardia. After the plane struck the flock of geese and damaged both engines Sullenberger discussed his options with air traffic control.

He could either return to LaGuardia or land at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. Sullenberger quickly realized the plane’s damage would not allow for either option. He decided that ditching, or performing an emergency water landing, in the Hudson River was the best option. His instincts were spot on and he saved the lives of all 155 passengers that day.

Ready for Your Commercial Pilot Career?

Commercial pilots have the chance to be heroes every day. The responsibility that comes with putting hundreds of lives in your hands during every flight is a hero-like responsibility. It’s not something everyone can do, but for those who can, it’s an extremely rewarding career. CTI Professional Flight Training can give you the skills you need to get in the captain’s chair. Schedule a tour today, and get started on an exciting and well-paid career as a pilot.

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