HomeNewsArticle Display

Hero of the Hudson visits alma mater

Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John F. Regni and 1973 U.S. graduate and classmate Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger salute during a parade held April 15 on the Terrazzo. Captain Sullenberger received the 2009 Col. James Jabara for Airmanship for displaying extraordinary Airmanship in hazardous conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John F. Regni and 1973 U.S. graduate and classmate Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger salute during a parade held April 15 on the Terrazzo. Captain Sullenberger received the 2009 Col. James Jabara for Airmanship for displaying extraordinary Airmanship in hazardous conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John F. Regni presents the 2009 Col. James Jabara award to 1973 graduate and classmate Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger during a parade held in his honor April 15. Assisting is William "T" Thompson, chief executive officer for the Association of Graduates. Capt. Sullenberger received the award for displaying extraordinary Airmanship in hazardous conditions by landing the crippled U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River Jan. 15. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Mike Kaplan)

Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John F. Regni presents the 2009 Col. James Jabara award to 1973 graduate and classmate Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger during a parade held in his honor April 15. Assisting is William "T" Thompson, chief executive officer for the Association of Graduates. Capt. Sullenberger received the award for displaying extraordinary Airmanship in hazardous conditions by landing the crippled U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River Jan. 15. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Mike Kaplan)

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, recipient of the 2009 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship, receives a briefing before a parade held April 15 on the U.S. Air Force Academy Terrazzo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, recipient of the 2009 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship, receives a briefing before a parade held April 15 on the U.S. Air Force Academy Terrazzo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John F. Regni is accompanied onto the  Academy Terrazzo by classmate Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, recipient of the 2009 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship, and William "T" Thompson, chief executive officer for the Association of Graduates (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. John F. Regni is accompanied onto the Academy Terrazzo by classmate Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, recipient of the 2009 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship, and William "T" Thompson, chief executive officer for the Association of Graduates (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, recipient of the 2009 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship, receives a 30-minute glider ride April 16 from instructor pilot Cadet 1st Class Joseph Baldwin. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Ahlschwede)

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, recipient of the 2009 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship, receives a 30-minute glider ride April 16 from instructor pilot Cadet 1st Class Joseph Baldwin. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Ahlschwede)

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, recipient of the 2009 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship, receives a 30-minute glider ride on April 16 from instructor pilot Cadet 1st Class Joseph Baldwin. Stabilizing the glider on take off is Cadet 2nd Class Madison Burgess. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Ahlschwede)

Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, recipient of the 2009 Col. James Jabara Award for Airmanship, receives a 30-minute glider ride on April 16 from instructor pilot Cadet 1st Class Joseph Baldwin. Stabilizing the glider on take off is Cadet 2nd Class Madison Burgess. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dave Ahlschwede)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) -- Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who saved U.S. Airways Flight 1549 with a heroic water landing in January, returned to the roots of his aviation career here Wednesday to accept a coveted flight award from the Air Force Academy. 

Captain Sullenberger, a 1973 graduate, received the 2009 Colonel James Jabara Award for Airmanship during a ceremony on the Academy's Terrazzo that included a pass and review of 4,400 cadets. 

"It's humbling to be in such company - it's quite an honor," said Captain Sullenberger, a seasoned pilot. Past winners of the award include 1st Lt. Karl Richter, a 1964 Academy graduate, who at the age of 23 was the youngest pilot in the Vietnam conflict to shoot down a MiG in air-to-air combat. 

During his two-day return to the Academy, Captain Sullenberger, who was classmates with Lt. Gen. John Regni, Academy superintendent, and Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, made a visit to his old Cadet Squadron-18, held a question-and-answer assembly with cadets and took a glider for a flight. 

"The flight was wonderful, beautiful," said the captain, who, as an Academy glider instructor pilot, amassed more than 1,000 flight hours - an unprecedented number for a cadet. "I spent a big part of my time here flying gliders. People seemed to think that it was really exceptional that I was able to fly so much while I was here. It was a great sense of satisfaction that I was able to do that. And this glider flight was a great reminder of that. It was a pleasure to be on the airfield again and fly with a cadet." 

Captain Sullenberger, a native of Denison, Texas, and his crew with 155 people aboard Flight 1549 earned international acclaim Jan. 15 when they collectively put their emergency evacuation skills to the test. 

Almost immediately after takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport, the Airbus 320 that Captain Sullenberger piloted lost power in both engines after striking a flock of birds. With extraordinaire calm and coolness, he began to make decisions and maneuvers that resulted in a successful emergency landing the world is still talking about. 

The captain explained how he and the crew showed so much composure during the crisis that carried over to the 150 passengers. 

"Jeff [First Officer Skiles] and myself had been doing this for so long that we were just focused on doing our jobs," Captain Sullenberger said. "You don't allow other things to distract you. It was the experience and training of the flight attendants, who displayed an outwardly calm and professional demeanor, that got the passengers to respond in kind." 

Exhibiting Air Force core values, he walked the length of the aircraft twice to ensure everyone had safely evacuated the plane. 

Three months after the "Miracle on the Hudson," Captain Sullenberger said he continues to get a large quantity of letters and gratitude from admirers and well-wishers. He said he thinks often about a reunion meeting of his crew and passengers along with their families that took place in Charlotte, N.C., in February. 

"The most touching part for me during the reunion was when women came up to me and said, 'Thank you for not making me a widow,' 'Thank you for allowing my 3-year-old son to have a father,' and 'Thank you for keeping my family intact," he recounted. 

He said the story of Flight 1549 captured the imagination of America and the world because, "People were looking for good news, they were looking for a reason to be hopeful again." 

"I think this event was an anecdote to all the bad news that has happened in the last couple of years," said the former F-4 Phantom pilot. 

He said it's difficult to point to any particular training he'd received at the Academy that guided him during the heroic act on the Hudson River. 

"It was many little things that added up to an important whole," he said. "It was the entire experience [at the Academy]." 

Captain Sullenberger, who lives in Danville, Calif., with his family, said it's "been a gradual concept" to fully realize the impact of his heroic actions. 

"It's taken time to process and incorporate those events into my persona," he said. "But I'm confident that we made the right choices. I'm confident that we had the best outcome that we could have under those circumstances. I'm satisfied and very grateful for a successful outcome with no injuries. Over time, I really appreciate how remarkable that event was." 

Captain Sullenberger last visited the Academy about 25 years ago during his 10-year reunion. 

"I'd had forgotten what a beautiful location it is," he said. "I've always loved this part of Colorado, with the big sky and a very dramatic landscape. I'm gratified to see so much construction going on. I'm glad to see the investment being made." 

The airline captain said being with cadets was refreshing. 

"It was great to be with the cadets," he said. "It couldn't have been more wonderful. The cadets have taken good care of the Academy while I've been gone. The future is bright." 

Cadets returned the praise. 

"He's down to Earth," said Cadet 1st Class Anne Marie Wathen, a native of Atlanta. "He's not in it for the fame. He deserves all the recognition he gets." 

Cadet 2nd Class Erik Nelson of Uncasville, Conn., said he has great respect for Mr. Sullenberger because of the passion he shows for flying. 

"He's a notch above the rest," Cadet Nelson said. "His passion for flying gave him the edge to do what needed to do to land the plane safely." 

Comment on this story   (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

View the comments/letters page

Engage

Twitter
RT @173rdFW: "I may have lost everything, but thanks to the support we’ve found here, I’m going to be back on my feet inside of a few weeks…
Twitter
.@GenCQBrownJr & @cmsaf_official sat down and discussed how the Air Force will continue exempting Airmen from PT t… https://t.co/bWVig9fSOW
Twitter
SrA Mark Gonzalez describes how his job enables the B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber to support the Bomber Task Force depl… https://t.co/sceKCtM3Pz
Twitter
RT @AETCommand: Our Airmen come from all walks of life — and we are stronger for it. Staff Sgt. Kalinin, 56th Force Support Squadron ALS…
Twitter
“It's critical to have that diversity in the Air Force that we have today because it is truly through that diversit… https://t.co/RIDQDjdlCr
Twitter
F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron @EielsonAirForce takeoff in support of exercise Valia… https://t.co/cf0raGgEUD
Twitter
RT @USAF_ACC: "This test, and others like it, can shape the future of the MQ-9, as we continue to increase its relevance in great power com…
Twitter
"We cannot rest on our laurels. It is all about the people, folks, and they will guarantee our readiness, and are f… https://t.co/BsNDUSw0wE
Twitter
RT @USAFCENT: USAFCENT Airmen and coalition partners are executing missions of national, regional and global importance and Exercise Desert…
Twitter
In March 2019, @AFSpecOpsCmd received its first Block 30 AC-130J Ghostrider gunship. Referred to as “the ultimate b… https://t.co/V9FoDThYRQ
Twitter
As the Joint Force transitioned from a Continuous Bomber Presence posture in the Indo-Pacific theater to a Dynamic… https://t.co/u8JlA3GaeF
Twitter
As of August 2020, The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, aka Hurricane Hunters, has flown 64 missions into 12 s… https://t.co/CFtHJ8HDXG
Twitter
.@AFGlobalStrike tackled B-1B readiness issues head-on by readying the fleet with a roadmap to recovery over a 2-yr… https://t.co/dEfZemGKbb
Twitter
As we celebrate 73 years of the U.S. Air Force, we remember the heroes we are proud to have served with. Today we… https://t.co/3pdHX3DvIn
Twitter
Flying, fighting and winning since 1947. #USAF73 https://t.co/qM28ykPZwt
Twitter
RT @AF_Academy: Proud to fly the @usairforce flag today and every day! Happy 73rd Birthday! #YourAcademy #FamilyWeek https://t.co/hOIs1ghq7M
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Today we honor the #heroes who knew the worst of war and the agony of captivity - those who fought for and lost their fre…
Twitter
RT @ArmyMateriel: Join us in wishing a Happy Birthday to our brothers and sisters in the United States Air Force! #DYK The Air Force was…
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,280,645
Follow Us