Eastwood Got It Right With Sully

By Robert Mark on September 14th, 2016

Eastwood Got It Right With Sully

640px-plane_crash_into_hudson_river_cropComplete NTSB Accident Report: US Airway 1549 

(click here)

Most pilots tend to take airplane movies with a grain of salt because they’re usually riddled with mistakes or enough exaggerations to quickly make us nuts. Remember big snoozers like Tuskeegee Airmen, Flight or Pearl Harbor? Of course, there have been a few outstanding films over the years like 12 O’Clock high and the Battle of Britain. But the good ones are few in number.

When Clint Eastwood’s “Sully” began the other night, I was hoping one of my favorite directors might get this one right. 90 minutes later, I left the theatre believing that anyone, with even the tiniest interest in aviation, would walk away feeling their money was well spent. Eastwood got it right.

Sully’s not a disaster film. It’s watches almost a bit like a documentary … a very good documentary.

That’s because Eastwood’s film dissects more than just the 208 seconds, between the takeoff of USAir flight 1549, radio callsign Cactus 1549, and its landing on the Hudson River.

The dream sequence that opens the film tells you more about where the film’s headed than anything else. Cactus 1549’s water landing, crash, arrival or whatever you call it, represents the greatest mixes of skill and luck known to aviation in a long time.

But Sully’s also about how all-155 people aboard escaped with only a few minor injuries. The film goes to great lengths to show Sully, played admirably by Tom Hanks, making it clear that he’s not the only hero responsible for all that followed the dual flame out aboard the A-320.

Sully rightfully credits his first officer Jeff Skiles, the flight attendants aboard the Airbus that afternoon, and the hundreds of first responders who arrived within minutes of the crash to help the passengers they found standing on the wing of the A-320 gently floating downstream in the Hudson River, in the frigid air that January afternoon in 2009.

What I think really what makes Sully the first great aviation film I’ve seen in a long time is the opportunity it offers us to get inside Capt. Sullenberger’s head as he wrestles with the decisions he and Skiles made in those seconds after they plowed through a huge flock of Canada Geese.

It happened in the movie, just the way it does in real life. Someone in the cockpit says “birds,” and a fraction of a second later you either hit them, or miss them. There’s seldom a chance to swerve out of the way.

Right after both of the A320s engine’s flamed out, there are some agonizingly long seconds of silence in the cockpit. Some people in the movie house actually yelled out , “Why isn’t he doing something? He’s just sitting there.” Experienced pilots of course, realize Sully was doing something, but all the analysis, like “We can’t really be seeing a dual flameout at low altitude,” was going on in his head and also showed on his face.

Some of the best teaching moments for the public, if I may call them that, happen during the NTSB’s public hearings in which Eastwood shows Sully and Skiles sitting alone at a table like the defendants in a major trial.eastwood

Surely members of the NTSB are not going to appreciate the antagonistic style with which their team is portrayed during most of the movie.

But we insiders know the Board sits not in judgment of pilots in these situations, but as detectives trying to uncover the facts and determine what really happened.

One of the most poignant scenes comes during the public hearings comes when an NTSB official finishes listening to the 208 seconds of cockpit voice recorder from Cactus 1549. He looks at the two pilots and admits the power of what he’d just heard and the irony that he normally never has a chance to listen to these recordings with the actual pilots involved, for obvious reasons.

In places the film is almost surreal with Sully showing us how pilots think both before and after, when they must live with the results of their decisions … decisions often made in the heat of a battle that few ever experience.

We see the anguish and self-doubt Sully experienced for months after the accident knowing that after 40 years of flying he was ultimately going to be judged on 208 seconds of his career.

What really makes this 93 minutes worthy of anyone’s time and money though is that Eastwood never whacks viewers over the head with sensationalistic scenes.

He prefers to, if anything, understate what happened to Cactus 1549 that day, perhaps a bit like Capt. Sullenberger himself understated his own role in the Miracle on the Hudson. Sully just said he and Skiles were doing their jobs.

What Eastwood does do is let us spend a little time linked up with Capt. Sullenberger’s mind, just enough, I think, to quickly let viewers connect the dots to reach their own moment of clarity.

From Chicago, I’m Rob Mark

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14 Responses to “Eastwood Got It Right With Sully”

  1. Eastwood Got It Right With Sully Avjet News Blog Says:

    […] These article are taken from: Eastwood Got It Right With Sully Copyright to the […]

  2. Joe Subits Says:

    Saw it and you nailed the review of the movie perfectly. The only thing I would add was how Eastwood also showed the dedicated Center Controller who thought “he lost” Cactus 1549 because he could not give them an alternate airport that was feasible. Without ruining the suspense for those who have not seen it yet,the human factor discussion between Sully, Skiles and the NTSB is the most insightful thing in the entire movie. Having experienced an engine failure in a single engine Cherokee at 6500 feet within 3 miles of a perfectly good airport, I can attest to the human factors at work. In my case, making the field was almost a given but even such, I made sure I was way high on final and slipped the last 500 of altitude to touch down at midfield with plenty of runway to roll out. Again, excellent job on the review, every pilot needs to see this movie.

  3. Amir Says:

    Great movie and great actors best simulation suchlike happens in us airways before but I didn’t see any RAT due glid distance plane in to the houdson river
    Therefore, in all cases of RAT extended, it is recommended by ECAM to fly at or above RAT MINI speed 140 kts;
    but with the old RAT, when landing gear is selected down, the CSM-G automatically disconnects,
    with the new RAT, when landing gear is selected down, the CSM-G remains on line.
    Consequently, when such a combination of malfunctions occurs, the RAT extends and then, the CSM-G comes on line which explains why during 5 sec the electrical network is powered by batteries only.

  4. Doug ReagnI Says:

    I took my girlfriend to see this movie. As a pilot myself, I was apprehensive that there would be too much techno-jargon. I was happy to see that she could easily follow while I was not at all disappointed with the way technicalities were handled. Cudos to Eastwood, he reeellly gets it.

  5. Ron Says:

    I saw this movie on Sunday and was very impressed. I also work for an airline I thought I would share what I did this past weekend with some of our pilots. Much to my surprise they were and are not impressed with Sully’s skills! I think they are jealous. I also read the book it also is well written!

    I think the best thing that pilots can take away is when his flight instructor told Sully “no matter what happens always fly the airplane!”

  6. Dave Says:

    I’m not sure the NTSB was correctly portrayed. They came across as very negative and as headhunters, not sure that was the way it was. If correct, they seemed to not be an impartial investigator of “what happened and why”. the simulations certainly did not take into account the “WTF” hesitation in actions other than the prime directive of “Fly the Airplane”.

    Other than that, it was a great film. And piling on KUDOS to Sully and his entire flight/cabin crew.

  7. Robert Mark Says:

    I agree with you Dave. The NTSB came off looking rather police officer like, which is nothing like the way they actually operate … not even close.

  8. kim mcintyre Says:

    Having started my pilot training in NJ, I was able to point out to my wife the location of TEB and describe the departure path and turn from RWY4 from LGA. Really enjoyed watching NTSB eating crow (ooo, bad pun) with their 17 practice runs on the SIM of the “impossible turn” back to Laguardia. Great show depicting the stressors and deliberate thought processes of a well-trained PIC during emergency procedures.

  9. Jim Says:

    I agree with Dave and Robert — the NTSB was painted in a rather bad light. Transcripts of the hearings are available to read; and yes, while the NTSB did point out that in simulation they were able to make “the impossible turn”, in reality the was little doubt the Sullenberger acted in a completely acceptable manner. Keep in mind that this is typical Eastwood — think Dirty Harry — lone hero going up against big government bureaucracy. And no, I do not work for the NTSB nor the FAA. I’m a 9,000 CFII who has had my share of encounters with the FAA.

  10. Jack Says:

    Did this in a 757 sim shortly after event. Had not flown at LGA in maybe 15 yrs. Initiated complete dual engine failure at 2200′ (lower than event) on RW04 departure. Kept nose up flying at min flap speed, cranked APU, blindly turned left (cannot see aft of about 60 deg in sim) toward extended RW13. Started flaps to 20 (takes forever), dropped gear to help get down. Touched down and stopped on the RW with no problem. Tried it later in a 767ER using a course reversal to landing on RW22. This was much harder. Made the RW but had an unsafe landing gear light.

  11. Robert Mark Says:

    I’ve taken the liberty of pasting in the NTSB’s complete US Airways 1549 accident report.

    After rereading some of it, I was reminded about just how haunting the transcript of the CVR is from this flight.

    If you read nothing else, go to Page 132 of the report and spend a few minutes reading how those final minutes shook out.

  12. Gary LaPook Says:

    Great movie and Sully said he just did his job. I have litigated airplane crash cases for 25 years and others have claimed that you can’t expect a pilot to do a good job when confronted with an emergency. I have always said that that is part of the job that I expect to pilot to do, and Sully agrees with me. I always stress that to be “in command” means that you will have decisions to make when there is no “good” choice, only “least bad” and “real bad” and you have to choose on of those. if you try for the unavailable “good result” then you end up crashing into a building and killing all of your passengers. Sully chose the “least bad” option and did a good job. I watched the movie and while there remembered that I have made 5 emergency landings, the tension shown in the movie seemed very realistic to me.(I’ve been an ATP since 1978 and a CFI since 1972.)

  13. Alaska Says:

    Sadly, the NTSB lives up to every bit of ineptness observed in the movie. Too many of the investigators are only double dipping beaucrats that have little or no employ in the outside world. They can and have in more investigations than anyone should be admitted can’t get past the blame game.

    The NTSB, in aviation accidents has focused on fixing the blame not fixing the problem, finds fault not the solution. The NTSBs 17 practice runs in a SIM of the impossible turn is a classic example of their not so impartial fact finding. They were bound and determined to find pilot error.

    One of the investigator admits the power of what we just heard and the irony that he normally never has a chance to listen to these recordings with the actual pilots involved, for obvious reasons. We had the same opportunity, but the NTSB was not even being able to get the right flight manual of an airplane in an accident. So with the wrong flight manual, as their evidence they found a cause of pilot error. The pilot, they said, did not use procedures from the incorrect flight manual they entered as evidence. The NTSB now in a embarrassing position of needing to admit inspector error dug in their heals.

    Yes, they can be and are more often that we want to admit very negative and vindictive headhunter who are desk jockeys not in the front seat.

    The incrimination and self doubt are painfully real. No one ever recovers and relives the nightmare, I am afraid forever. The most jaded of the NTSB investigators rely on this self criticism that pushes every pilot to critic themselves to be better and their best.
    I may not be able to watch the movie. The pain maybe too real. With my $491/mo PBGC pension, with which I may only be able to buy a cup of coffee someday, I will do what so many of the pilots of that airplane have not, I am alive.
    I have found another love, soaring to heights I flew in a jet plane in an airplane as beautiful as flight itself with only a tow.

  14. Jean Karam Says:

    After 44 yrs of flying experience in an airline.
    I can say that the movie was great and professional.

    It shows how much a pilot is weak and helpless if he has to face an incident.

    Luckily Capt Sullenberger who I salute here had no casualties.

    Instead of being decorated for saving lives under short notice and admitting his right by law to exercise whatever decision he takes in an emergency

    He has to face not only his conscience

    but also the big doubt of the ” WHAT IF? ” of all those minds sitting peacefully behind their desks and thinking of the weakest link to throw their blames on?

    BEST WISHES TO Capt Sullenberger and his crew
    And a big thanks to Clint Eastwood and his wonderful team for making this beautiful and very realistic movie.

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