'Sullying' the Work of Commercial Pilots Everywhere

Nonetheless, Sullenberger was still doing what he was trained to do, and what his employers expected him of him. It would be nice to think that because he was a steely-eyed airplane man, only he could have landed that airplane safely and smoothly in the river. But it's not true. I'll bet that every other US Airways pilot thought to himself, "Good job, Sully, you did just what I would do." And not just the US Airways pilots, but every commercial pilot. And the vast majority of them would be right.

Pilots don't like to think that luck rules their lives, but Sullenberger was lucky, in the sense that he had a place to set his airplane down relatively smoothly and safely after his engine failures. If the failure had occurred at a slightly lower altitude, he probably wouldn't have had the option of the Hudson River. His options might have been to hit an office building or a vacant lot (which may been a sandlot with kids playing ice hockey, and he might not have had time to discern that). But it's very dangerous to think that as long as people have -- as novelist Tom Wolfe  noted -- "the right stuff," that all will be well, because sometimes things happen that are beyond the capability of even the best pilot. And while it sounds nice to say that "failure is not an option," the reality is that if the oxygen tank on Apollo XIII had exploded on the way back from the moon, the crew would have died, and there was nothing that anyone in Houston could have done about it. Sometimes it's just not enough to be a hero. And when failure is not an option, success gets pretty damned expensive, which is one of the reasons that space, as executed by NASA, remains unaffordable.

But why does the press compare Sully to Lindbergh and Yeager, when the former was just doing his job, and the latter were taking deliberate risks to expand the envelope of flight? I think it's because the public isn't necessarily looking for heroes.They're desperate to just find people who will at least do their job with integrity, as Captain Sullenberger did. When the public confidence in our future is currently at an all-time low; when our so-called leaders in Washington and New York have shown themselves to be utterly incompetent and greedy, to find a man who prominently does his job, saving hundreds of people, is a rare shining beacon, a rock of integrity in a sea of corruption, and it suddenly becomes newsworthy. But when you salute Captain Sullenberger, think about the millions of other Americans who, despite the rot at the top of the system, continue to do their jobs just like him -- if less conspicuously --  and provide the promise of ultimate recovery.