Here’s your adrenaline boost for today. James Salter reviews Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson by William Langewiesche in the New York Review of Books. Here’s a snippet of the review, which includes a gripping account of the ditch:
In the cockpit the ground warning alarm had begun, an automatic voice repeating that the plane was too low. Sullenberger called for the flaps on the wings to be extended in order to slow the plane for impact. At two hundred feet he began breaking his glide and ballooned a little. They were at 150 knots—about 180 miles an hour. He lowered the nose slightly and then, pulling back on the stick in the last few seconds before touching down, his airspeed spent, remarked coolly to Skiles, “Got any ideas?”
“Actually not,” Skiles said.
December 28, 2009 at 2:41 pm
I love that story. It is such an American story, and by that I mean that it exemplifies the work ethic and dedication to competence that is taken for granted here, even as it has been ground away at by the MBA mindset over the past few decades.
This is in great contrast to much of the rest of the world, where cost-cutting, corner-cutting, ass-covering, incompetence is the rule, not the exception. But you can’t do that and run a safe airline. Now, airlines worldwide DO manage to run safe, mostly, by imitating the safety-first competence culture of the US. But in the US that attitude is the rule.
My step-father was a pilot, aircraft mechanic, and aircraft inspector, and also the first American I knew; so my impression of Americans is colored by that experience. I love that attitude, the expectation that accomplishment and expertise will be rewarded, that truth to power is an obligation, and if the boss doesn’t like it, well you can get another boss. Americans, especially my left-wing compatriots, have a terrible inferiority complex, but it’s largely undeserved. The only countries that approach American levels of competence on a wider level are Germany and Japan.
America has problems. As I say, I lay a lot of blame on the MBA mindset that believes that you can run any business without knowing anything about how it works, and that short-term management for quarterly results is more important than long-term investment. But it’s not a broken country as long as competence is valued the way it still is.