A One-on-one Interview with an American Hero: Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger
Heroes are giants – gods among us mere mortals. Heroes are larger-than-life figures who occupy the stratosphere, enjoying the view from mount Olympus as the twenty-four hour news channels immortalize them. In making their feats appear effortless, they gain our admiration, nay our devotion, and sometimes in feats of mythic proportion, our worship. Aviators have ascended this pedestal, and to the annals, which include such names as Charles Lindbergh (see here), we can add Captain Sully and include him in the pantheon of heroes. JEANRICHARD, however, would correct our hero misconceptions with their interpretation of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. In this regard, Captain Sully is a perfect match for the brand.
If the name Sully doesn’t immediately jog your memory, let me share the mental image of an airplane floating in the Hudson river with the aircraft intact and no casualties. From those images, the world learned that Captain Sullenberger piloted his disabled craft to the only safe landing available, the water. He did what he was trained to do, but even those with exceptional training sometimes panic, and very few pilots could safely stick a water landing without the aircraft coming apart. On January 15, 2009 aboard US Airways Flight 1549, Sully was just doing his job, but the world noticed just how well, even against the odds, he did his job.
JEANRICHARD was kind enough to grant me private access to “Sully,” for an exclsuive interview.
Monochrome: Please tell me how your connection with JEANRICHARD began.
Sully: Well, I became aware of JEANRICHARD, and we had conversations and decided that we had a lot in common, and it would be a good fit. I happily said yes. The more I learn about them and the more people from JEANRICHARD that I meet, it just confirms that opinion.
Monochrome: What watch are you wearing today?
Sully: I’ve got the Aeroscope, and it is a very nice one. I really like things that are well crafted. One thing I haven’t done yet is visit the factory and see exactly how they are put together. It is something that I am looking forward to doing.
Monochrome: There is a mechanical connection, is there not, between an aircraft and a watch, and do you find a similar interest between the two?
Sully: I have always been fascinated by the concept of time. Of course as a pilot, time is such an important thing. When you take-off, you have a finite supply of fuel and time. You have to be back on the surface at a certain point and with reserves, and so managing that is part and parcel to what flying is all about.
Monochrome: So when you landed in the Hudson, remind me again how many seconds you had to land the plane?
Sully: 208 seconds, so just under three and a half minutes from the time we hit the birds and lost thrust until we had landed. It was an unbelievably intense time.
Monochrome: How many times have you had to land a plane because of engine failure or what-not?
Sully: Before that, never.
Sully: You know the technology had gotten to such a state of reliability that in 42 years of flying before that point fours ago, I had never experienced in flight the actual failure of even a single engine. But then, I guess, we made up for lost time. I mean I have been challenged in a few ways over the years, but nothing even remotely like this. This was very suddenly the challenge of a lifetime, and I knew as it was happening, what happened and what that meant for us.
Monochrome: A lot of notoriety for you obviously.
Sully: As soon as my name was made public, I think within an hour or so, it was worldwide news. There were satellite trucks parked in front of our house for ten days. It was an unbelievable experience.
Monochrome: Are you still flying?
Sully: I flew about another year for the airline, and then I retired. I became a consultant, speaker, author and a CBS news contributor for aviation safety.
Monochrome: In terms of your flying, are you a private pilot now?
Sully: I do fly recreationally, and I also fly on short business trips.
Monochrome: What do you fly?
Sully: I have been flying a Commander 690. I have a corporate pilot friend who owned it, but unfortunately he sold it recently, so I am looking for another situation.
Monochrome: As you think back about the watches that you have owned over the years, have you owned mechanical watches?
Sully: I have always had mechanical watches. There is something special about the mechanism, and I like the analog display. If you know enough about the human factor, and I am no expert, but I know enough to know that when I glance at the hands, I don’t have to read it and interpret it, I can just look at it and see what time it is. That is much quicker, a more intuitive way of telling time for me.
Monochrome: With the Aeroscope that you are wearing, please interpret how this watch is advantageous to a pilot. What about that watch impresses you?
Sully: First of all, it is big enough that I can easily see it. I like the way the second hand is easily visible, and the minute and hour hands. It is a very nice display. It is very functional. From a human factor standpoint, I think it is well done.
Monochrome: The black-and-white dial is a traditional military style.
Sully: It has a lot of color contrast.
Monochrome: So where did you get your flight hours in your training? Did you serve in the military?
Sully: I did, but I learned to fly before. I am one of those really lucky people who has always known what I wanted to do with my life. In fact, I never had a plan B. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t been able to fly.
Monochrome: Flying was a love?
Sully: It was an absolute lifelong love that continues still. So I learned to fly in High School. I soloed at 16. I got my private pilot certificate at 17, my commercial pilot certificate at 18. By 20, I was a flight instructor doing airplanes and gliders. I flew a thousand hours the four years I was in college. Then I went to the Air Force pilot training; flew jets; became a fighter pilot. Then after six and half years of active duty service, became an airline pilot for thirty year.
Monochrome: Your flying experience keeps you calm?
Sully: I was very fortunate to spend my whole professional life doing something that I love, which gave me great satisfaction. The way I describe it is, “It has been a lot of fun being particularly good at doing something that is difficult to do well.
Monochrome: Let me conclude with this: Why do you think JEANRICHARD wanted you?
Sully: I think that they feel like they see in me some of the qualities that they admire. I think a lot of people who know this story attribute to me, rightly or wrongly in varying degrees, qualities that they admire, and I think the JEANRICHARD people as well. I think it is in concert with what they believe, and therefore, I am a good ambassador.