Simulator prepares pilots for crisis

January 15, 2009 6:33:15 PM PST
The US Airways crash in the Hudson River is something pilots train for all the time. it is training and preparation, that as we saw today in New York, saves lives.

Only in an era of computers and fancy simulators could a pilot make a miracle landing. Then, within hours, have others attempt to duplicate his feat.

"I don't know what kind of medal you could give him, but he sure deserves one of the big ones," said ABC7 Aviation Consultant Ron Wilson.

The Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos has one of those simulators. Wilson tried again and again to make a dead-stick landing in a commercial airliner, above one of the most densely populated places in the world.

"He had absolutely no power. He had to make immediate decisions in short notice, he had to threat that airplane like he threads a needle between Manhattan and New Jersey,fly between two bridges, and land on the water without breaking he airplane apart," said Wilson.

This is hardly the first time that bird strikes have knocked out engines in flight.

Wilson remembers one such incident at San Francisco International Airport in 1970. Pieces broke through the housing, even the wing, and SFO has small birds -- mostly starlings.

The ones in New York were apparently much bigger.

"These were geese, some of these geese are 20-25 pounds. If you suck one of those in, you suck two birds into both engines, a massive failure," said Wilson.

And for pilot Chesley Sullenberger it is one chance at a one in millions mishap. Somehow, he maintained enough airspeed to keep the plane under control, without stalling, and then he managed to land safely in the only available spot.

If the river hadn't been there, he would have put it down in Manhattan or New Jersey, and he may have killed hundreds of hundreds of people. But he found that river," said Wilson.

The jet engine blades spin fast and if a bird hits it, it gets obliterated because of the high speed. What happened in New York is highly unual, and to lose all engines it's even more unusual.