Local pilot Richard Fried assesses the movie “Sully” as highly accurate
The movie “Sully” focuses on a trained professional whom circumstances turn into a hero.
Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III, a commercial pilot, faced a crisis with calm professionalism, saved the lives of those entrusted to him and endured intense unmerited criticism.
After viewing the film, Salisbury Township resident and former pilot Richard Fried gives it a thumbs up and states “[the movie] was very accurate.” Fried’s assessment is particularly relevant because he and Sully flew slightly different versions of the same plane. Fried piloted the larger Airbus A300; Sully worked on the Airbus A320.
Fried, whose career parallels Sully’s in many respects, notes “Everything [depicted] was authentic.”
Fried explains although pilots in many movies receive commands from outside sources such as the control tower, once in the cockpit, the captain has complete control. For example, if he is given runway instructions with which he does not agree, he requests and receives a change in plan. Consequently, the pilot bears full responsibility for the passengers, flight crew and aircraft.
Fried identifies strongly with Sully. Both men began their careers as pilots in the U.S. military. After graduating first in his class from the Citadel, Fried attended flight school; a majority of his flight school classmates were, like Sully, Air Force Academy graduates.
In Vietnam, Fried flew 35 combat missions as part of tactical air command in support of U.S. Special Forces troops. For this service he received the Air Medal, a military decoration which the U.S. Army Veterans website states is awarded for “meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.”
Sully flew F-4 Phantom II jets. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1973 to 1980 and attained the rank of captain.
During their time in the military, each man gained invaluable experience functioning in high stress situations.
Doree Fried, Richard’s wife and a former Eastern Airlines flight attendant, adds she felt safe flying with pilots who were great under pressure and a “military background helps [to develop that skill].”
Both men ultimately left the military to become commercial pilots; Fried worked for Eastern and Sully for Pacific Southwest Airlines. Each also continually strove to hone his skills and deepen his knowledge of the planes under his command. These efforts paid off because, as Fried explains, “Sully knew the aircraft and exactly what had to be done.”
Fried and Sully often flew from East Coast airports: Logan, Kennedy, La Guardia, etc. Due to the surrounding marshes and in spite of efforts by the airports to scare off the birds, migrating fowl enter flight paths fairly regularly.
According to Fried, once a plane reaches 10,000 feet, air traffic is minimal. However, he recounts on a flight from Boston a large bird, probably a goose, collided with his plane at 13,000 feet. The noise of the impact jolted the men in the cockpit. Fortunately, Fried was able to safely navigate the aircraft even with the remains of a large fowl adhering to the windshield.
Since he has first hand experience flying from La Guardia airport, Fried provides valuable insight into Sully’s dilemma as to how to best land a disabled plane in that area. Sully chose the Hudson River; Fried supports that decision. Buildings and highways surround the airport for miles. The river offered the only open space large enough to land a plane.
In fact, wherever he flew, Fried habitually located potential landing sites in case of an emergency. He states in the case of La Guardia, he had told himself, “If anything happens, I’m going in the river.”
Fried and Sully have more in common than their career choices and exposures. They also have similar personalities. Fried comments “The nice thing I liked about Sully – he was like me – I made sure everything was right. [I had] backups for backups.”
Like Sully, Fried endured a crisis that severely tested his professional skills.
In 1969, the plane he was piloting was hijacked to Cuba. While held at gunpoint, Fried remained calm, successfully navigated the plane and managed the situation to a peaceful conclusion.
As in Sully’s case, the airline and FAA were not sympathetic to the pilot’s need to relax and regroup after dealing with a high stress situation. And, although not excessively pro-union, Fried admits that in dealing with the aftermath, union support proved crucial.
Upon his return to the States, the airline wanted Fried to immediately take a check ride. To assure safe air travel, twice each year pilots undergo physicals and complete check rides, simulator flights during which a pilot demonstrates his ability to deal with a variety of crises. Pilots are also required to commit emergency response sequences to memory so in a disaster their initial reactions are automatic.
Despite these precautions, the airline administration and the FAA were initially rigid in their reactions to the hijacking. Union representation assured Fried of the chance to rest and recover before taking a check ride. It also supported him during the investigation into the hijacking. After the situation was officially reviewed, Fried, like Sully, retained his status as a commercial pilot.
What neither Sully nor Fried states is senior pilots shoulder the responsibility for the safety of their passengers, crews and planes on a daily basis. They are trained to respond to difficult situations with calm professionalism and courage. Unless the situation is particularly dramatic, they seldom make the news.
Furthermore, air travel is extremely safe. According to ABCNews.com, “On average [a person] would need to fly every day for 55,000 years in order to be involved in a fatal crash.”
Much of the credit for the security and convenience of commercial flying belongs to pilots like Sully and Fried, men who do their jobs well.