The difference between technology and leadership.


If you asked experts in avionics about the crash of flight 1549 a majority of them might attribute the outcome to a good pilot using better technology. If you asked the passengers and crew they would probably unanimously declare Captain Sullenberger to be the greatest thing to happen to American aviation since the Wright brothers. I am inclined to agree with the passengers and crew – Charles Lindbergh notwithstanding.

That there have been tremendous advantages in avionics in the past 50 years no one disputes. Many as the the result of military development which has been made available to civilian aviation in the name of safety and many as the result of NASA which we are scrapping in order to afford more welfare. Captain Sullenberger received his training from the military – not ABC’s Wing and a Prayer school of Flying and Screen Door Repair under a federally guaranteed loan and an affirmative action grant.

Thank God for it!

No amount of technology will give a machine the reflexes to make and implement difficult decisions and the courage to carry them out. A machine might have made any of several choices based on mathematical calculations of the probable best outcome and might have done it faster than a human however it would be limited to the data that it had available and would not be able to extrapolate from extraneous data to intuit a choice outside of its parameters – don’t care how well they play chess they still can’t think!

More than the skill to land the plane in the river was the presence of command to do not only that but to have the courage to see that all of his passengers and crew were safely deplaned. Those things – all of them in combination – are what constitute leadership. It is no wonder that he was invited to the State of the Union address but it is sad that so few were able to discern the difference between this leader and the rabble that surrounded him.

Fly by wire : the geese, the glide, the Miracle on the Hudson William Langewiesche  US Airways Flight 1549 Crash Landing, Hudson River, N.Y. and N.J., 2009  New York : Farrar Straus, and Giroux 2009 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 193 p. : map ; 22 cm. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

On January 15, 2009, a US Airways Airbus A320 had just taken off from LaGuardia Airport in New York when a flock of Canada geese collided with it, destroying both of its engines. Over the next three minutes, the plane’s pilot, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, managed to glide it to a safe landing in the Hudson River. It was an instant media sensation, the “Miracle on the Hudson,” and Captain Sully was the hero. But how much of the success of this dramatic landing can actually be credited to the genius of the pilot? To what extent is the “miracle” on the Hudson the result of extraordinary – but not widely known, and in some cases quite controversial – advances in aviation and computer technology over the past twenty years?

In Fly by Wire, one of America’s greatest journalists takes us on a strange and unexpected journey into the fascinating world of advanced aviation. From the testing laboratories where engineers struggle to build a jet engine that can systematically resist bird attacks, through the creation of the A320 in France, to the political and social forces that have sought to minimize the impact of the revolutionary fly-by-wire technology, William Langewiesche assembles the untold stories necessary to truly understand the “miracle” on the Hudson, and makes us question our assumptions about human beings in modern aviation.

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